Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

Remapping remote keys for OpenELEC/XBMC

January 10th, 2013 No comments

This past week, I set my Parents up with a Raspberry Pi-based OpenELEC unit, which I built for them to replace an extremely dated Buffalo product. (So far I have been pretty surprised as to what this little RPi can do!)

After getting a stable setup going, the last piece of it was getting a remote that they could manage. I was nervous at first because of compatibility concerns and "bleeding edge" software. However, I picked up an "Adesso ARC-1100 Media Center Remote" - which I had seen as being compatible on the XBMC forums, and out of the box, it works great. Truly plug and play.

I wanted to pick up something reasonably priced and locally (just in case I had to return it, I didn't want to hassle with RMA processes.)

The main issue with the remote is that some buttons are a bit confusing - which is tolerable, but the main offender is the power button. It works out of the box, as one would expect, except that once you power down the OpenELEC/RPi combination, you can't power it back up again (at least not with a USB-powered IR receiver...)

To solve that issue I looked into figuring out how to do some key remapping, to make the power button do something different, or nothing at all. The documentation seems straightforward but made me dizzy for a moment (and is slightly incorrect where remote.xml is), but on the first try I had success. After that, I decided to mess around and see what other buttons I could "disable" essentially (and I decided to see if <null> could be used to map the key to nothing - it seems to work)

Here is the output of that work, it looks simple enough. Put this under /storage/.xbmc/userdata/Lircmap.xml (or via the userdata SMB share)


Sure enough, it all works - now I have a remote solution for them that won't let them get into trouble, and confidence now on how to map keys in the future.

After playing with XBMC on a Pivos AIOS DS, Intel NUC, and OpenELEC on an RPi, I have to say I am happy to see the extensive community involvement in the XBMC project and its derivatives.

Now, I just wish skinning it was as easy...

Categories: Toys

The HDMI cable scam

August 22nd, 2010 No comments

Someone finally published an article that caught my eye about this, so I thought I'd add my two cents.

Summary in my own words:

Never pay more than $5/foot for an HDMI cable at big box places like Best Buy, etc.

The best places to go are small shops around town - those are roughly $1/foot. There's a handful of places around me that offer plenty of options - length, color, etc. Obviously the length-to-cost ratio is different based on the length (I see some that are less than $1/foot, and some that are more than $1/foot, but all pretty close.)

When looking at an HDMI cable all you need to see is "High Speed" or 10.2Gbps on the packaging. Don't look for "Hz", "4K" or anything else. Look for either "10.2 Gbps" or "High Speed" and then find the cheapest cable for the length you need.

As it says, quality of manufacture can be an issue - but like any product, that is always a possibility. However, most cables should have absolutely no issue.

This goes for Ethernet cables too - you shouldn't have to pay more than $1/foot anymore. Even for cat6. I'm looking at a local place with 50 foot cat6 for $15. 75 foot cat5e for $11. Don't get ripped off!

Categories: Toys

AT&T takes a shit on us again?

May 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Wow - two headlines in the same amount of weeks worth screaming about.

They're increasing ETF fees on all devices that actually matter and put any strain on their network. They've reduced fees on "basic and quick messaging phones" - which aren't anything that anyone cares about anymore.

"... the ETF will increase to $325, and be reduced by $10 for each month that you remain with us as a customer during the balance of your two-year service agreement."

Do the math: if you ride out your contract until month #23, you still owe them $95. You can never break even until you've gone out of your contract. I bet this will stay in effect for next year's iPhone refresh (assuming the pattern continues) - which means larger ETFs/upgrade costs for people who want to upgrade to the next iPhone after the 4G. All of us folks who plan on getting an iPhone 4G will be agreeing to these new terms (assuming we buy into a contract.) AT&T's got virtual crack with the iPhone (and iPad, I suppose) - they rope you in with two year agreements but release a new device each year... it would be so great if Apple got out of their damn agreement with AT&T.

Will have to weigh the options - I might be out of my contract soon anyway and it might be cheaper to buy the phone without a contract. Assuming I even stay with AT&T.


Categories: Consumerism, Toys

My recipe for ZFS at home

September 28th, 2009 4 comments

After spending a lot of time Googling around, reading forums, blogs and bug reports, etc. I was able to come up with the most amount of storage in the quietest case I could find, that should be compatible with Solaris/OpenSolaris. I've found a recipe that works and I'd like to share it.

My main goal was something with as many drive bays as possible and as quiet as possible. That was it. I think I've been able to do that pretty successfully with this configuration. So much so I just finished building my second one.

Of course, you can piece this together almost 100% from Newegg (which I what I did originally) for a little bit more money, but possibly save on shipping - and of course you'd also be ordering from the best online computer retailer.

Anyway I've gone through and found what I believe to be are the cheapest places to find these parts. Together it totals $1,390.27 and gives you 16 drive bays for data in a pretty quiet configuration. The loudest components are the fans on the 5-in-3 SATA Chassis units - if you can swap those out with something else, you'll have less drives available but could make it almost silent then.

Then all you need is to buy the drives... I used 1.5TB Seagate drives. Their price point is excellent right now, typically running around $105 at Fry's consistently.

I set them up in two 8 disk RAIDZ2 pools, for double redundancy in both vdevs, and combined them into one large pool.

Performance seems to be good, have no complaints yet. It's been reliable as hell too. All off a single power supply!

Compatibility - I am running Solaris 10u7 on one, because I don't need any of the OpenSolaris/SXCE/etc. features, I'd rather have something a bit more "stable" - one of the reasons is mentioned below.

The other one is running snv_104 (SXCE) - I wish I would have tried Solaris 10 first on that one. Oh well. I did try upgrading it to snv_110 or thereabouts at one point and it got stuck at boot time. I am not sure if that bug has been fixed yet or not. So be aware, regression issues can break compatibility. Although it shouldn't! *cough*

Hope this helps some people out!

Categories: Toys

"Tonight's project" ... just a couple weeks late

June 24th, 2009 2 comments

I'm finally getting around to posting all the pictures of this. It actually turned out pretty good, even though I was too impatient to wait to order some more fitting parts from online. Oddly enough, I could find almost all the parts locally besides these tiny little brackets that were basically holders to create a patch panel out of already plumbed out keystones.

After having my network completely reset itself a couple times, sometimes randomly, sometimes during a storm, sometimes during something normal spiking the electrical in the house like a washer or vacuum being turned on, I decided something needed to be done. The "home connectivity center" that was installed by the company I had wire my house up was a generic piece of crap that had a cover that was almost impossible to line up and put back in its place properly.

I was thinking I would get a connectivity box with a door. Nope.

Anyway, my thoughts were to find a UPS and get the central D-Link 5 port gigabit switch on it, something with voltage regulation hopefully, but at least something that should provide uninterrupted power should the power spike up or down. Simple, right? Not so much.

The box did not provide enough room, I would have had to special order some funky UPS from online, and I still wasn't guaranteed it was the best solution. It would radiate some heat and the box already made me a bit nervous heat-wise.

After talking to my old boss he got me thinking again about putting the UPS somewhere else. I realized I had the perfect place to put it - the access panel to my jetted tub right below the box (I figured that's where they ran the power from to power the box anyway...)

Anyway, here's the box before (a little messy, I did have the FiOS router strapped in too, just didn't take pics first)

With the smallest UPS I could find, which actually might have worked but definately would have been a heat worry...

I called around to look for a different box, that may be deeper or at least had an easier cover to put on. Sadly, I could only find one. It did not match up with mine either. Mine was 20" tall, the standard height seems to be 28" for a medium size one. So I decided I would rip mine out and replace it, and actually cut out 8 inches of my wall (what the hell was I thinking?)

I went and picked up the "home connection center" at Home Depot, and decided to get to work. What annoyed me is they only sold two other accessories for this unit, one of them was $50 just for a couple internal attachments. No thanks. I'll figure that out later.

Now the old one is ripped out of the wall:

What the bottom looked like after I cleaned it up a little:

Oh yeah - this is what I was given. They plumbed it out for me nicely, so I just needed to find a little patch panel type thing - should be easy enough (so I thought...)

Skip forward after sawing out my wall (I did a hell of a good job for the tools I had available to me, I think!)

Now, time to lay out the internal components. They've got some bracket accessories, but of course nobody had any at 12am at night, not to mention it didn't look good that any place would have it in stock locally to begin with.

Cleaned up a little bit more:

Finally, this will be about as good as I can get it. You'll note that I used zip ties - those were fun to fish around behind the panel (I'm joking) and the left side has a normal wall plate with 6 keystone spaces. I rigged it in to one of the only brackets any company had in town.

You'll see in the middle picture at the bottom the power cables. I bought an extension cable and split it myself to power my own power outlet that was wired directly to the UPS underneath the box, so the entire power outlet could be considered UPS'ed. The power cable on the rightmost is actually the original power cable - I was able to retain that. So it winds up being

Original power cable -> UPS -> New power outlets -> Router and Switch

When I looked in the little diagram I realized that there was an optional door that could be added. Instantly I got even more excited about the outcome of this project. I was finally going to have a box with a door. I was actually happy with the original hinged cover it came with, it was much easier to use than the old panel. That one was a piece of garbage.

Anyway, the final product, with the door...

Oh, and of course, the UPS that is underneath all of this:

I propped it up on some of the original foam packaging to keep it off the dusty/dirty/possibly wet ground (some day) - seems to have worked out quite well. I did clean up the cords a bit more too though.

Now all I need is to clean up the paint job. They had painted with the access door to the tub on, so when I went to remove it, it ripped off dried paint. That was a nice surprise. Also, there's some marks on the walls from random stuff and a sharpee mark from where the old box lined up. But when it's all sealed you can't really see any of that.

All in all, I'm kinda happy. Being such an Internet geek, I have very little patience for any manual labor, so to complete a project and for it to come together so well with a mish-mash of parts and tools was neat. I got the majority of work done the first night, but wound up bleeding in to the second day when I was trying to track down the other spare parts. Couldn't find the patch panel-ish thing (they do make one, but I would have had to wait 2-3 days at least) - so I just crafted some thing on that left side that works just as well.

It's functional, clean, has more space than it did before, has a door and now is fully UPS-ized. All in all, it was a good experience.

Categories: Toys

I love this frickin' toolkit

May 9th, 2009 No comments

I have to give original props to Kevin for first letting me borrow it a couple times. He got it a long time ago but it appears Best Buy is still selling it.

It's Dynex, which is their "cheap house brand" - but it's still great. Its saved my hyde now a couple times. If it was a person, it would actually go under my "Respect Knuckles" category. I am almost tempted to do it anyway... But I digress!

From helping me dismantle a bunch of annoying hex screws on HD enclosures to helping me fish out what was almost a screw in an almost impossible place, this kit so far has been great. Price isn't too bad either, and of course, every geek needs something like this.

Price: $29.99
SKU: 7263061

Dynex® - Computer Tool Kit

There's probably hundreds out there, but this has a nice clean case, easily portable and so far has had a tool for everything I need.

Categories: Toys

WiMAX - initial review: killer, if you get a signal

December 28th, 2008 4 comments

I waited in extreme anticipation for my WiMAX adapter to be delivered. It wound up being a day late due to the weather. I unpacked it and installed the software and plugged it in and ... nothing. No network found. What? WiMAX has no line of sight issues, it's supposed to "just work" - I tried using Clear's 24/7 online chat support. Guy was just a random first level support. Not much help. I decided I would give it a try when I was out in a zone that should definately have a signal.

Right now I'm using it, and I was using it the other day. Both times I've been looking at ~5mbit down and 400kbit up according to Very nice. Currently it feels like I am at a home wifi connection. So at the moment if this was consistent, I would be sold. However, I am still not able to claim this is the best thing since velcro until I can figure out why I get not a single bar of signal at home.

I tried calling Clear the first time I was out and of course it was working - I thought it was going to fail like it did at home. Doh. Anyway, I need to do some more testing and diagnosis, but right now I have to say if the coverage improves (or someone explains why I get nothing inside of my house when it sounds like I should) WiMAX is pretty awesome. It's going to make me wish my laptop had it built-in so I didn't need a separate USB dongle for it 🙂

Categories: Toys

/mode Mike +4G

December 18th, 2008 3 comments

I did it. I took the plunge. I ordered WiMAX. Thank you Clear for making Portland your second market for the service! I hope it is all that it promises.

I've got seven days for satisfaction with a full refund, 30 days with a partial refund. Month-to-month, no contract. Sweet. I will let everyone know what it's like. Hopefully I'll be able to get it soon and run around town messing around with it. Too bad there aren't any phones that can leverage it yet in the US. It'd be neat if my iPhone could jump on it.

Contract Term: Month to Month

Plan Name: WiMAX Mobile - FREQUENT - No Commitment
Included: Up to 4 Mbps Downlink Speed
Up to 384 Kbps Uplink Speed
0 E-mail Addresses
2 GB monthly bandwidth

I'm sure I'll be using more than two gigs per month if it works well. It's only $10 more for unlimited. I confirmed you can change contract anytime with prorated charges. They sell home service even, so it must be consistent performance... right? 🙂

Categories: Toys

Updates on home storage solutions

August 17th, 2008 No comments

For a while I was looking into and hoping to go the eSATA route. Immature chipsets and lack of OS support have somewhat kept that idea frozen.

I want to use ZFS for a filesystem. Or a filesystem -like- ZFS. Currently there are no others out there like it. There is Btrfs, and there is another one I thought picking up steam (although I can't remember it now for the life of me) - both of those however aren't stable yet. ZFS is still not as stable as I wish on FreeBSD. It won't run natively on Linux, and I don't think it's very stable either. The only true way to get a stable filesystem like ZFS is to in fact run ZFS on Solaris.

I was not excited to try Solaris. It used to be a joke to call it "Slowaris" - I remember the old days of using random UNIX shells and hating Solaris boxes because I couldn't run hardly anything or compile anything. However, that's changed somewhat now. I took the plunge and installed SXCE (Nevada build 94) since Solaris 10u5 did not support the new CIFS implementation. So far, I've learned a little bit here and there about Solaris system administration and I've been using ZFS to create some snapshots, filesystems, etc. It is so easy even my mom could handle it. Not to mention Solaris has some pretty neat tools like the Solaris Fault Manager, which I have crontabbed to run every 30 minutes and email me if -any- hardware/faults get reported. So I have this great box sitting there running the best filesystem possible integrity-wise, and it is also damn quiet. It's not a small form factor which I would have liked, though.

So I begin looking into trying to get a small form factor ZFS box. I might be able to, if I want to hack up a Shuttle style case (see Udat at Mashie Design - there are mini-itx motherboards now with 6 SATA ports onboard which would allow for a 5 drive RAIDZ1 + maybe use a Compact Flash card for a boot drive. However, that requires case modding and can only fit 5 drives. I'm not sure I really want to try all that.

Instead, even Mashie himself has admitted to moving into larger form factors for storage boxes (I believe he's using a CM Stacker nowadays) - and from a space perspective, it probably does make the most sense.

Currently I'm exploring going with a full-size case that could hold 15 drives, or a mid-size case that could hold 10 drives (not including optical + boot)

I think I may have found a winner, for the mid-size option. Lian-li has a self-proclaimed "silent" chassis that has 9 bays (which means 6 bays for 2x5-in-3 modules) + optical + 1 boot disk in the spare 5.25" bay. Roughly 8-9TB usable in a mid-size case that would be about as silent as it can get. It even has a front door on it. Actually, there's a second place one - this one is much more extensible, but has no door on it, which I think would help shield any noise coming from these 5-in-3 modules. See here. Cooler Master also has a case like that too - again, no door on the front. I wish I had local access to all of these cases to try each of them out. Right now I have to order them online, and then pay possible restocking fees, and at least the cost of shipping the product back. I'm tired of that back and forth game. I've had to do it too many times in the past.

Lian-li also has a full-size chassis that already includes 10 internal drive bays, + 5x 5.25" front bays. Those extra bays could be used for more drives too. So many options... I'm trying to determine the amount of space I want to use in my office and how large and bulky I want these machines to be. Ideally I would like as little CPUs as possible - no need to have full-out operating systems installed and having to manage all that. I'm just tired of all my equipment making noise, getting hot, failing, and data corrupting due to failure or bit-rot. It's time to upgrade and streamline.

I've pretty much examined every chassis at Lian-li, Coolermaster and Antec. I have an Antec P182 right now. It's great and quiet, but does not support as many drives as I want for these next boxes. Stay tuned as I pull the trigger and build another storage box soon. Perhaps I'll share some pictures and specifications with my existing storage box I just built, which is for "off site" daily snapshots of my hosting infrastructure and some other servers I administer.

These next machines will be for my own personal use... and now I've gained some good knowledge on what to expect. It's been a while since I've built a normal-sized machine, as I've been a Shuttle XPC user for years now 🙂

Categories: Toys

The (current) state of (e)SATA port multipliers

April 14th, 2008 8 comments

For the most part, open source has been good to me. I can run my business on free software that is for the most part better than its commercial counterparts. I'm able to use often-updated and relatively bug-free software in all facets of my life. However, there are a couple things that have been bugging me - one of them has been SATA Port Multipler (PMP, not to be confused with PM - Power Management!) support. 1TB drives hit an all time low last week (at least in my ads) and it got me motivated to check in to the status of PMP support once again. Previously there weren't a lot of people using it and not a lot of feedback or information. Today, I have a bunch of good information, but still not the magic combination, which for me, includes ZFS (as it is the only filesystem out there still to offer all the good checksumming, self-healing, etc.) This post isn't going to talk about why ZFS rocks. Most people already know why. I want a filesystem that has been built for integrity. This is for home archiving, and I'll be damned if bit rot is going to ruin my memories.

My goal was to find an OS that has ZFS support, which currently is between Solaris (or OpenSolaris, Nexenta, etc.) and FreeBSD 7 (which has "experimental" but usable ZFS support) - I'd prefer Linux as it has the fastest rate of bug fixes and driver support and I am already using Linux on one of my home machines, but ZFS doesn't run natively on it (FUSE is not native enough.)

The following below are the current status I am aware of taken from direct emails exchanged with Adriaan de Groot (who said he might port PMP support to FreeBSD 7) and Tejun Heo (who maintains the PMP driver libata-pmp for Linux) and Google searches, mailing list and forum postings as of today.


I'm not even going to bother here. Most drivers for the controllers are coded for Windows first, and then if we're lucky an open source Linux/etc. version is put out. So Windows support is probably 100% - but you're stuck to using NTFS or something (blech.)


According to Adriaan:

"Don't bother, as port multipliers are not supported. I had some PMP support hacked in at some point, but without NCQ there's not much (performance) point. It *might* be that Soren has added NCQ / PMP in the meantime, but I'm not aware of it."


"PMP requires NCQ to be useful; otherwise you end up queuing all the requests for the different disks and performance goes down a fair bit - but like I said, it's *possible* and if all you're after is big storage, it will work. Anyway, it's not the cards' fault: there just isn't any NCQ in the (FreeBSD) kernel."

Tejun's comment:

Although NCQ and PMP supports don't really have to go together. Non-NCQ PMP should work as good as direct non-NCQ. Nothing more to lose there because it's attached via PMP. Maybe they were talking about pushing multiple commands to a port. If the driver can't do that, PMP won't work too nice.

As of now according to Adriaan, there is no PMP support in FreeBSD (except possibly some highly experimental patches.)

Solaris (and variants)

From Adriaan:

"I run OSOL ... but OSOL also does not support PMP"

Additional links:


Possibly? I did not look into this. It would be a shame if some were supported with NCQ and not given back to FreeBSD... this guy claims to have what sounds like two 4:1 multipliers on his Mac:

http:[email protected]/msg13749.html


(There is a site that tries to keep up to date with SATA support in the Linux kernel. This is probably the best place to look. As of writing, it still appears up to date.

According to Tejun, who was extremely helpful answering my barrage of questions gracefully, it does look like Linux has some PMP options (now if only we had ZFS or BTRFS...!) with the following notes for each chipset:

Controller chipsets: SiI3124, SiI3132 - both will work. His comments:

"3124/3132 controllers are good"

"Performance-wise, all the PMPs on the market should be okay but 3124/3132s have certain limitations on PCI bus side and can't deliver full bandwidth concurrently from all drives attached through PMP. I don't remember the exact numbers but it maxes out after three drives or so."

"I have second gen chips from SIMG and they behave really good."

Note: SiI3124-1 is only 1.5Gbps. SiI3124-2 supports 3Gbps.

Enclosure chipsets: SiI3726, SiI4726, Marvell 88SM4140  - all should work great. His comments:

"3726/4726 PMPs are the first gen PMPs and both are a bit quirky"

"Marvell port multipliers behave really well."

"That said, 3726/4726's work okay too. The only problem is that they always need their first slot occupied to operate correctly. As long as you occupy the first slot, there shouldn't be much problem."

Update: "There have been reports of 3726/4726 PMPs having trouble with 3Gbps link speed under certain configurations. I still don't know what's the exact cause.  It doesn't seem common but if you can maybe trying out with one drive before ordering the whole array is a good idea."

Note: the Marvell is only a 4:1 multiplier, the SiI ones are 5:1.

So the big winner here for the time being is Linux - looks like I will be purchasing a SiI3124-2-based controller (probably this one, which claims it is a 3124A, a successor of the 3124-2) and a SiI3726 or SiI4726 based PMP enclosure. I am trying to determine which one will be the quietest right now. I don't believe that hardware RAID-5 is supported on any PMP, only RAID 0, 1, and 10. It gets confusing because most advertise RAID but it leverages some software RAID stuff. So I will probably using mdadm for RAID5 at home.

Hopefully this is a useful (and correct) summary. I invite anyone with updated information to leave a comment, and I will correct it. Especially if you have experience with eSATA PMP enclosures and have anything to add! Not many people have ventured out into these waters yet, but it looks pretty neat - off a single PCI-X or PCI-e card you could chain 20 drives all with decent bandwidth and only have one cable for each set of five drives...

Categories: Software, Toys