HP ProLiant N40L

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I have had my eye on this little box since the last time it was on sale in February.

There was an article about how VMware made their ESXi Hypervisor software available for free. Being a fan of virtualization, I couldn’t wait to download and try this out.

Unfortunately, ESXi is only supported on mainly high end servers with limited device driver support. Although maybe not production capable, the HP N40L is an official ProLiant which uses all the supported server hardware.

First thing I did was to install a Lite-On DVD burner and upgrade to 8gig ram, the maximum officially supported. Next, I took out the included 250gb Seagate which I will swap for the 1TB drive currently in my desktop PC. I also installed an old 80gb and 120gb drive to be used for virtual machines.

HP included a bootable internal USB port, accessible right next to the drive bays. A nice feature as I can then install ESXi to a 2gb thumb drive (or other software like FreeNAS) keeping all hard drives available for data.

My only complaint is VMware’s client software to manage the server is Windows only. A web interface exist, but it is not part of the free version. I don’t expect this to be a huge issue, being able to directly access the VM’s once built, but time will tell.

Raspberry Pi

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My latest gadget, the Raspberry Pi. A quick boot of Raspbian impressed me enough that I need to make the time to further explore what this little $35 computer can do. Oh, and construct some sort of Lego case for it.

GoFlex Home

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While doing research on the PogoPlug, I found there were different devices that utilised the same base technology. One of these, supported by the Arch Linux Arm project, is the Seagate GoFlex Home. Staples had the 1TB version on sale for $80, which is a decent price due to the floods in Thailand causing higher drive costs right now.

I read the SATA interface would be faster then USB, and the integrated drive will save desk space. Also, with the OS booting from SATA, I can configure a nice swap file and have plenty of room to compile binaries. The main goal is to make this a Samba Server, hosting all my media files for XBMC endpoints.

I never used Arch Linux before, so I tried a standard install in VirtualBox to see how it worked. There are a few new commands to learn, but overall it runs very well. I also tested the GoFlex with Seagate’s surprisingly fast default disk sharing solution. After a few days of use I almost wasn’t going to modify the device. That changed, however, when I needed to do some remote work, at which point you fully realise the limitations without a proper OS.

Following these excellent instructions resulted in a default Arch Linux Arm install. I would point out the suggestion to make two partitions, which at first seemed unnecessary. However, if you need to start over, being able to format the OS drive without touching your data is a huge perk. The MAC address not saving and having to manually add the second partition to fstab were the only post-install issues.

Next, I went through the first steps guide to do some house keeping, and then the Samba guide which took care of my immediate sharing needs. I am very happy with the results, as the low power, near silent device sits on my desk. Time will tell if the little guy can keep up, but I have high hopes of long term success.


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This little device qualifies as one of my best impulse purchases to date. For under $30 I now have a full Debian Linux system running 24/7 that uses about 4watts of power.

One thing to mention is there are many different versions of the Pogoplug. The model I am using is POGO-E02, which sports a Marvell Kirkwood 1.2GHz ARMv5te Processor, 256MB Ram, 128MB Nand, 4 USB Ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. I splurged with a 16gig Flash Drive to be my boot device and main storage.

Out of the box Pogoplug allows the user to add external hard drives via USB, which are then made available both locally and over the Internet. However, thanks to the effort of many individuals, there are two prominent OS replacements which can be loaded to expand the capability of these devices. Arch Linux ARM is a popular choice, supporting many of the Pogoplug devices and backed by an active community. Debian Linux has always been my preferred distribution, so I was happy to find there was support for my particular model.

Jeff Doozan hosts what seemed to be the definitive guide to installing Debian onto a Pogoplug device. However, I found out during install that due to updates at Debian some of his scripts were now out of date. Luckily, another forum user Shyd was able to modify the install script to support the latest stable release, which at this time is Squeeze.

After running the script you are presented with a base Debian install to do with as you please. I configured some default options as suggested by Luke, and then installed Lighttpd, PHP5, and MySQL following this guide. Lastly, I took some ideas from mewbies to customize my shell MOTD to display prominent information at login.

I am very pleased with the results and would recommend this as a great low cost learning solution to anyone wanting to dabble in the world of Linux.


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So a week ago a friend of mine read an article on Engadget about setting up a home file server using FreeNAS. He asked my opinion about the software, not knowing I have been running my own FreeNAS server with great success.

The FreeNAS version at the time of this writing is 8.0.3. It has some pretty hefty requirements for what I would consider necessary for home use. I am still using the last stable release of FreeNAS 7 which runs on lower end hardware, and has a few more features then its newer incarnation.

When they were on clearance, I purchased a MSI Wind Nettop bare bones system in hopes of making a Hackintosh. It had similar hardware to the Dell Mini 9 but unfortunately the dual core Atom 330 was not supported, so I put it in the closet.

Shortly there after I began having issues with my Apple Time Capsule and needed a replacement. While researching options I found FreeNAS had an embedded install feature. The Nettop sitting in my closet was equipped with a bootable Compact Flash card expansion slot.

So I found an old CF card, 1GB ram, and purchased a Green 2TB SATA hard drive. Installing the FreeNAS software was a snap, and after the initial setup all other configuration is done via web page so the machine sits headless in a corner.

I formatted the hard drive as a single UFS partition. I then mapped mount points depending on the protocol being accessed. SMB for Windows, AFP for OSX, and RSYNC for Linux took care of my immediate needs. After setting up various user accounts, I set the spin down time for the disk and was ready to go. The only down side with this unit is the lack of redundancy. This was not a concern as I use it solely for backups, but I would at minimum mirror the single drive if it was going to be my primary central storage.

Tomato USB

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Over the years I have developed a need to modify most things that I purchase to make them more than the manufacturer intended. In fact, I now go out of my way to buy items that I can ‘hack’ whenever possible. A good example is my home Internet router, which currently is a Linksys E2000. I say currently because I also own a Netgear WNR3500L, but that is my testing router so the main network connection doesn’t suffer.

While talking to a colleague at the office, he stated it would be beneficial if his home wireless channel would auto change as needed. Happily, he said that the open source firmware Tomato was already installed, but he did not see said feature. I pointed out that this particular firmware had not been updated for many years, but was picked up by the TomatoUSB group. Unfortunately, that firmware is also over a year old, but various people have continued to modify it and add features. Toastman is one of those individuals, and my build of choice.

I have been very pleased with the stability and feature set of the Tomato open source firmware. Another excellent alternative is dd-wrt, which a build by Kong is running on the above mentioned Netgear. Either choice accomplishes the need to make my low cost device perform like high end hardware.

Apple TV

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What now seems like long ago, I hacked my Xbox to run a program called Xbox Media Center (XBMC). It allowed playback of music, pictures, video, and other media without the need of a PC, and it was awesome.

My wife likes to monopolise the living room TV, which is the main display for the majority of our media devices. Last week I broke down and picked up another second generation Apple TV for my office so I can watch Netflix. Sure there are other cheaper alternatives like Roku, or paying the $60 Gold subscription to Microsoft, but they can’t run my beloved XBMC.

XMBC is still awesome, so needless to say it’s time we “upgrade” the new ATV.

The first step is to save our SHSH info using TinyUmbrella software. This allows for the potential downgrade of firmware back to whatever was shipped from factory. This new unit was running 4.4.4 which is current for the time of this post.

After saving the SHSH info it is now time to jailbreak the device. A few different programs can accomplish this but owning a Mac I prefer using FireCore’s Seas0npass software. The latest version supports an untethered jailbreak of the 4.4.4 firmware and worked just fine.

Next, I have to SSH into the newly liberated device and install XBMC. I first made sure all the existing non-apple software was up to date, then a simple ‘apt-get install’ later and I was back to watching TV.

The last thing to do is to make sure all the new updates did not get erased by blocking auto-update from Apple. Easy enough.

Sony Vaio VGN-P698E

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My wife wanted a Windows Tablet for Christmas. The main reasons were the need to run actual Microsoft Outlook, and for it to fit in her purse. I wasn’t going to pay nearly $1000 for the already outdated tablet technology, or the mound of accessories needed to make it useful (docking station, bluetooth keyboard, etc.)

Luckily I have a strong UMPC background to pull from and started to look at alternatives. The purse size constraint eliminated all netbooks, but I knew from experience she would need a real keyboard that was large enough to touch type, or come close. For business applications my Fujitsu U820 was adequate, but the 1gig ram and slow 60gb hard drive were definite performance killers.

I always wanted a Sony Vaio P, but the release price was out of my budget. The P698E specification was identical to the U820 but with 2gig ram and 128gb ssd standard. At less than half the cost of any tablet I took a chance and ordered … TWO! Couldn’t let the wife have a superior toy, right?

We are both very pleased with the unit. She uses hers more often then a core2duo desktop which speaks volumes to its capability. Battery life was my only disappointment, clocking in at just about two hours. I will probably buy the extended size replacement for hers, which will increase that time to the five hour mark. Mine is my only Windows 7 machine, but it wasn’t a needed purchase so its use has been low. It does run well enough I can justify selling my other UMPC/Netbooks without regret.

MySQL Control Center

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A friend asked me to recommend a GUI interface to help with MySQL database tasks. I started using MySQL Control Center on some old version of Fedora long ago and really haven’t had the need to find something better.

There is a Windows port ready to download, and it is real easy to compile from source for Ubuntu. I only needed to add qt3-apps-dev along with the standard build-essential package for it to work.

Sony PSP

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Sony PSP

So with all the talk about the PlayStation Vita release I took the time to dust off my old PSP and run some updates. There are still a few games I haven’t played that IGN put in their top 25 list, and a couple others that need to be finished.

For those following along, I actually did get a deal on a white PSPgo that I carried in my pocket for a while. For me that was it’s only advantage, so when at home I still use the PSP-3000.

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