Big changes coming

So I’ve decided to spend a few bucks to fix a few niggling little issues around the house, mostly in the computer department:

  • First off, I’m worried about some recent break-ins and vandalism in the neighborhood.
  • Secondly, and slightly related, when I’m working in my office at the back of the house, it would be nice to know when the FedEx guy is ninja-ing a non-delivery tag at the front door instead of ringing the doorbell and waiting. Or know when the dogs bark whether it’s somebody at the door or just a shadow across the road.
  • The wifi penetration in the house sucks – in some parts of the house, your device will show one bar but nothing will actually get through. And if the microwave is on, forget about getting any signal on the other side of it. I put in a wifi repeater but it’s dog slow, and it uses a different SSID so you have to switch between SSIDs as you move around the house.

So here is what I’m in the process of doing to fix all those things:

  • I bought a security camera – an Airsight PTZ Pro outdoor camera with pan/tilt/zoom. If I wanted to, I could hook up a microphone and speaker so I could yell at the FedEx delivery guy to wait for 5 seconds as I run down. I’ve been playing with it and it is pretty amazing, although I’ve found one big flaw (more on that later)
  • I am running network cable from my office down into the basement, and from the basement up into the far corner of the basement, the dining room, and out to the front porch. The cable is currently pulled, but it’s not terminated and tested yet.
  • I’ve got a 8 port Gigabit Ethernet switch tacked to the wall where the first network cable drop comes down.
  • In the far corner of the basement, I’ve got a second router ready to install. I’m going to put this on the same SSID as the main one upstairs, and the same password, but on a different channel, turn off DHCP, and run the outgoing cable from my main router into the “WLAN” port of this one. I believe this will make the switchover from one to the other transparent so you don’t have to remember to switch SSIDs as you walk around the house, and it should perform a lot better than using the repeater. As an added bonus, it also supports 5GHz.
  • In the dining room, where Vicki spends 90% of her time when she’s using her computer, especially when she’d doing Second Life for work, there will be a wired network drop. Wifi is all well and good, especially 5GHz, but nothing beats wired.
  • The camera allows power over ethernet (or PoE as they call it in the brochure). So since I had to run power out to it anyway, I figured I’d give it the advantages of a wired connection, and run it all through the same wire.
  • The camera has the option to upload pictures and recordings to an FTP server. I figured that’s not much good to you if the thieves break in and steal your computer as well, so I’ve ordered a tiny little Raspberry Pi (aka Rπ). I already have a hard disk taken from a laptop that’s not doing anything, so I figure I can set up a tiny little FTP server and hide it somewhere where thieves won’t find it even if they’re ransacking the house. A closet, an obscure corner of the basement, even hidden inside the walls somewhere. These things are amazingly tiny. And I’m considering also using the Rπ to run ZoneMinder as an alternative to the built-in functionality because of the already foreshadowed flaw in the camera.

Ok, so what is this big flaw you’ve been talking about, I hear you ask? Well, it’s simple. The camera has the option to, when it detects motion, email you 5 pictures and start recording video to an ftp server. It also has the ability to pan and tilt and zoom. Those are two awesome features, right there. So what’s the problem? Well, when you set it panning, it interprets *that* as actionable movement and starts sending you emails. Not a good thing if you want it to continuously pan back and forwards. There is another option in the camera that lets you set up a bunch of fixed locations and have it cycle between those locations at intervals. I haven’t yet tested it to see if it’s smart enough to ignore movement while it’s moving between locations.

Oh, in other techie stuff, I finally got around to upgrading my Gallery site to Gallery3. In spite of the promises, the “Gallery 2 Importer” isn’t able to properly translate the URLs that Gallery 2 used to Gallery 3, so links to the Gallery are probably all broken. I did put in a mod_rewrite rule to take care of some of them, but not direct links to image files. Also, I seem to have lost all my raw pictures and movies.

I’m also currently looking into installing “ownCloud” as a way to get more space than I have with Dropbox without paying for it. I want enough space that I can throw my entire Documents folder on it instead of having to think “do I need this on all my machines, or is it ok if it’s just here” for every file. Since one of the two people renting space on my colo box never pays his rent except when I send him an email asking him if he’s still using it, I think I know where I can lay my hands on 100Gb of disk space on a server in a rack really cheap.

Well, that could have gone better

I volunteered to give a presentation to Linux Users Group of Rochester (LUGOR) about LVM, the Logical Volume Manager. I knew I had half an hour, and so I made a presentation, rehearsed it several times, and knew I could go through it in half an hour. I did it on my laptop, using VirtualBox to stand in for a computer that I could virtually add and remove drives from. I was told the room we were presenting had a projector that took HDMI input, and my laptop has an HDMI output, so I figured I was set.

First hitch was arriving to find out that we had been bumped from our room because some musicians were warming up for a concert they were giving elsewhere in the building, and the new room had a projector that only took VGA or DVI. Oh, and also I’d evidently gotten my signals crossed and I was really supposed to present next month. But no mind, the guy who was supposed to give the second talk today wanted to go first because he was sick and wanted to bail early, and the guy who was supposed to give the first talk wanted an hour not half an hour and would rather postpone. So the guy who wanted to go first talked first, and got me all intrigued about “ownCloud”. I may be setting that up one of these days.

Then the first room became available again, and we trooped back to it. And then I plugged in my laptop, got the two screens non-mirrored all set up so I could do the Powerpoint presentation part of the show, and then the projector screen started randomly flashing between what it was supposed to be showing and a green screen with something about HDCP displayed on it. I didn’t know it at the time, but that means that the copy protection stuff on my laptop isn’t compatible with the copy protection stuff on the projector. We spent some time trying to wiggle wires, change settings on both the laptop and the projector, etc, and finally I gave up.

Another guy gave a good quick little presentation on the Raspberry Pi. Amazing power in such a small cheap package. I’ve got one on order for another project, but it might be many weeks before I see it.

While he was talking, one of the other members handed over his laptop. It was an Acer that isn’t as high end as my MacBook Air, but it had two things going for it:

  1. It had already proven it could display to the projector, and
  2. It had VirtualBox installed on it.

I copied my VirtualBox disk files and my PowerPoint over to his laptop, and when the Raspberry Pi presentation was over, I started my presentation. And that’s when the next problem reared its ugly head. Every time I booted my VirtualBox instance on my laptop, it takes about 10 seconds or so. Every time I booted it on his computer, it took literally 10 minutes or more. Since I had to reboot several times in the presentation (because I was simulating adding and removing disks), this caused the presentation to drag out drastically. Fortunately there were lots of things to talk about during those long pauses. Charles, the organizer, used one of the pauses to explain in great detail what exactly I was doing with the VirtualBox and which parts of what I was showing belonged to it and which belonged to the guest OS and which belonged to LVM, something which I fear I hadn’t even though to explain in my presentation. With all the long pauses and delays, my “30 minute talk” ended up being somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half. And worse still, on the very last boot of my talk, I discovered that if I increased the number of virtual CPUs from 1 to 4 the boot went much, much faster. I’d only ever used 1 virtual CPU on my own laptop and hadn’t noticed any problem – I don’t know if that’s a difference between my i7 processor and the loaner laptop’s i5, or because mine is hosted on OSX and his is hosted on Linux. I wish I’d discovered this earlier in the talk, though.

If you care, slides are available at but probably not for too long.