Friday, February 28, 2014

VM snapshots and why you should use them.

I've been playing with snapshots inside VMware Fusion (the Mac version of VMware Workstation) and I gotta say, this is one of the greatest tool to have. You can read up on countless articles and blog post of how cool it is. There are many reasons why you should use it. As many of the best practices suggest, it is not a substitute for backups or restore point.

Having said that, I use them for testing and quickly provisioning. This morning, I was playing with building a quick and dirty LEMP (PHP NGINX MySQL) stack from a bare clean Cent OS 6.5 build.

My default VM is about 900 MB and I can easily back that up pretty quick. Screw up? Easy, pull out the clean virgin image and start over. However, with snapshots, you can do side-by-side comparisons that is pretty invaluable. I've used snapshots before but not on a regular basis because export and migrating VMs with snapshots tend to be a hassle. Now, I run multiple snapshots and once my automation scripts all work fine and dandy, I dump the snapshot VM and finalize my build off a clean slate back-up.

After starting with a clean, virgin build, I built my list of what I needed to install into a BASH script. The script sets repositories, launches services, set IPtables, copy configuration files, and modifies /etc/ files. For example, with NGNIX, you have to make sure you change user/groups from apache to nginx, define the worker process, etc. So I did this all manually to see if I had any typos as I normally did.  My script also does things like set CRON jobs, copies SSH keys, and modifies SSH daemon logins for keys only. The point was to make it completely automated with only a few clicks and password entries. This would something analogous to installing a pre-built VM appliance but defined for my use case.

Then I reverted back to my clean slate snapshot. Launched the VM and ran my installation script. It ran flawlessly. I had a whole LEMP build running in 2 minutes with all my settings I needed.

So in short, snapshots are pretty awesome. Again, this is good for quick provisioning testing and comparing if a service update breaks anything. I can see it for those uses.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lenovo N700 Wireless and Bluetooth Mouse AND laser pointer

So I got this mouse. It was on sale.  $20 or so with shipping. The normal retail is $45 on

It is the Lenovo N700 Wireless and Bluetooth Mouse AND laser pointer. Basically, this means it is a dual wireless mouse. You can use the supplied RF dongle or use it with a Bluetooth 4.0 computer. It also has a trick up it's sleeve. That trick is converting itself into to a laser pointer for presentations.

It is definitely a good looking piece of gear as it transforms into shape as a mouse or flat into a laser pointer.

There are definitely dozens of reviews out there so I won't get into specifics. However, if you are a Mac user and curiously interested, read on.

I didn't even try this with any versions of Windows. I bought this with the intention of using it with my Macs. It is designed for Windows 8 as it has gesture support for that OS. For OS X, forget about any gestures and assume it will be a 3 button mouse.

The reason why I wanted it because I wanted to remove the clutter on my desk when I switch between Desktop and laptop. I have the Logitech bluetooth K810/K811 keyboards and I can switch back-n-forth by toggling the Bluetooth presets. It comes in handy. This isn't a multi-device Bluetooth mouse but I figure I can use the Bluetooth on my 15" Retina while the RF USB dongle can be used for other computers that dock into my Caldigit Docking station.

(here it is flat in laser pointer mode)

Bluetooth pairing was a real pain. It took me 20 minutes to get this paired and dozen of other Internet postings indicate this was problematic. I had to toggle to laser pointer for 3 seconds, then back to bluetooth and I held the three mouse buttons until the light flashed orange. Once it flashed, I was able to get it paired. It did take several tries. Once paired, everything was good to go. I also tried the dongle as well.

Operation and handling. 

Well, I'll say this now. This isn't a good mouse. It looks very pretty and has that cool laser pointer feature. It moves too fast and erratic. It is too sensitive. I have a lot of Bluetooth mouses from no-name, Chinese $10 bargain bin Fry's specials to Microsoft, Logitech, and Apple.  From a comparison stand-point, this is definitely a $20 mouse. I would not spend $50 on this. Also, it doesn't even feel ergonomic.  There are no real gestures. You can glide and slide the middle button and it would sometimes scroll. If you slide the upper portion of the middle button, you can sometimes move forward and backwards on browser pages. However, these operations were sporadic. Scrolling didn't always work. I think there has to be some sort of sensitivity controls. They probably have this as a driver download or something for Windows 8 but nothing like that exist on OS X.

(next to a Magic Mouse)

In conclusion, this is definitely worth only $20. It is cool in the respect you can use either Bluetooth or a USB RF dongle. The laser pointer is pretty gimmicky but cool. I'll keep it for a while because I do like the size when it is transformed into a flat slate. I guess it may be better if I actually used Windows with this except my Windows machines are only accessible via Remote Console.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Network File Browser front end for ChromeOS and Chromebooks

(Here, I am accessing my ArchLinux Pogo Plug ARM server via SFTP on my Chromebook)

One of the thing that the  Chromebook (ChromeOS) lacks is the ability to access local network share.
This isn't a glaring omission nor oversight on behalf of Google. As we know, they designed Chrome OS to be an Internet device that uses Google services. Chromebooks are designed and sold to access the public Internet.

However, if you are a home user who wants to access his local files on his local NAS or network file server, you are out of luck.  Maybe you are a school IT administrator who is also looking into deploying Chromebooks but want his school staff and students to access the local network file server.

Well, you can. Sort of. It requires building a front-end to your network shares using some popular open-source projects and this blog post will chronicle two of them:
Pydio (formerly AjaXplorer) and OwnCloud.

Both are PHP front ends that allow you to access file servers using just a web browser. Both have their plus and minuses. In short, you will need a LAMP stack box to act as the gateway to your file services. In other words, you'll need a Linux/OSX/Unix based web server to act as a middleman gateway. Think of them as mini, low-end consumer, small business asset management systems that works in the browser.

Read On.

This blog article will about these two projects with the idea of using them for Chromebooks. Sure, you can use them with any computer, browser but the point is to have a solution for Chromebook users to access their network file servers.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mele E 2.5 inch USM compatible HDD enclosure

I take a lot of chances with unknown products. I have no hesitation of buying something from mainland China and having it shipped to the US.

Today, I have the Mele E Go USM enclosure. This could possibly be the cheapest USM enclosure out there for use with Thunderbolt.

This thing goes for $16-20 on Ebay, depending on the seller. That is CHEAP!

So what is it? It is a USM (Universal Storage Module) enclosure. It is an standard case designed and promoted by Seagate. It is basically a raw shell with a SATA interface at the bottom that allows it to interchange with different connectors - Firewire, USB 2, USB 3, eSATA, and Thunderbolt. This is the standard used by Seagate's own Go-Flex and Backup Plus line of external hard drives.

If you have the portable 2.5 Seagate Thunderbolt adapter, this slides right into it. Thus making, it one of the cheapest portable Thunderbolt enclosure solutions. $50 for the Thunderbolt sled from Seagate (when it is on sale), $16 for this enclosure and you  are done minus the drive.

There are others who sell USM enclosures like Startech but they're asking $47-50 on Amazon. USM enclosures shouldn't be expensive because it is only a shell with a SATA interface.

Here are the promo shots.

So here is my review.

You buy this for one reason and one reason alone, USM!

If you are invested in USM or want to get into USM, this is the cheapest enclosure you can buy to hookup to Thunderbolt. Hence, this review is all about that purpose and that purpose alone. I bought this to solely use with the portable Seagate Thunderbolt drive adapter.

USB 3.0 performance, I really didn't even bother. But if want to know, it works fine. But if you want to know, the USB 3.0 end piece is a JMcron SATA bridge and post respectable numbers. Using a Crucial M500, 240GB SSD, I was getting 242-250 MB/sec writes and reads.

Now, back to the reason why you get this enclosure.

First and foremost, this thing is really only good for using with SSDs. There is no cushion or padding and I would not use this with a mechanical drive.  You really don't need thunderbolt for 2.5" 5400 or 7200 rpm drives. Since SSDs do not having moving parts, I have no problem using this. If you have a 7.5mm drive, you will need a some spacers or tape it down as it will move. I used a spacer w/ a Crucial M500 and it fits just fine with no wiggle room. This is a tool-less design so you can pop-up drives in and out. However, I doubt the enclosure can handle multiple drive removals because it is pretty thin. You are gonna ignore the easy removable tool-less aspect of this and just have the expectation that you will use this in a permanent enclosed fashion.

I only wanted to test this with Thunderbolt and obviously, this thing is well suited for use with Seagate's portable Thunderbolt adapter.

Here it is with the Seagate Thunderbolt dock. Nice fit. This has to be the cheapest 2.5" Thunderbolt, interchangeable set-up you can buy.

For comparison, here it is next to a standard Seagate USM 2.5 drive. Much smaller but the included USB 3.0 end-piece is much bigger. You can interchange the end pieces with one another because it is just standard SATA.

Firewire 800? Yeah, if you have one of those USM connectors, this works fine as a Firewire 800 drive too.

Pretty cool, huh? Firewire, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt flexibility by just changing the end-piece.

Overall, I like it. It does feel a bit flimsy with cheap plastic but it does the job admirably when used with a SSD drive. The enclosure is very thin if you want something thin and lightweight. Again, I do not want to recommend this for use with a mechanical drive. If you want a cheap and fast way to use SSDs with Thunderbolt, this enclosure along with the Seagate portable Thunderbolt dock is the way to go. It is so cheap ($16 shipped via Ebay), I bought a few. I really don't even care if they break because I can easily just replace them. The enclosure has no moving parts or electronic pieces (besides the throw-away USB 3.0 end dock).

I forgot, the Seagate Thunderbolt dock does SSDs with no problems using this dock. For those curious about benchmarks with the Seagate Thunderbolt + Crucial M500 + Mele, here it is:

Belkin's Thunderbolt Express Dock

Looks like the Caldigit Thunderbolt station is eating away the sales of Thunderbolt docking station as Belkin is shaving the price on their dock. It can be had for $150 today on Amazon.

I still think the Caldigit is a better buy. I might get my work to pony up for one of these Belkin units so I can play with. Maybe a two-way comparison? Caldigit Thunderbolt station vs Belkin's Thunderbolt Express dock?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Another Portable Chromecast Display

A few months ago, I reviewed a 9" Korean made portable HDMI/MHL monitor, the Popad. You can read it here on this blog. It is an iPad/Tablet shaped, sized portable battery powered monitor.

I haven't used it in months and decided to take it out of the box again.

I wanted to play with the Chromecast SDK and I needed something I could pop on my desk without taking up any extra space and this did the trick. I also didn't want to dedicate any of my main desktop pc display for just Chromecast. I think this did the trick.

Have in mind, the resolution isn't that great at 1280x720 (720p) but it does work. The Popad uses micro-HDMI and the MHL port can be used to power the Chromecast device.
As you can see below, everything works out pretty good. Both the white cables (micro USB/MHL and micro HDMI) connect to the Chromecast on both ends. The black cable is standard micro USB to power and charge the PoPad display.

Once it is fully charged, the PoPad can run for a solid 9 hours. I have to say, it could be a handy set-up for just watching Netflix while you are working.

My original Popad review:

Thank goodness for EXIF Data

EXIF DATA, a life-saver in martial affairs.

What is it? EXIF data is the meta-data embedded in Photos taken from dSLRs.

I was thinking about my Wedding Anniversary and that big number is coming up but I couldn't quite grasp and remember when it was. Yep, I'm that bad.

I pulled up Lightroom and looked at my old archives. Okey, dokey, I'm in the clear for a while. I guess I better put that in my calendar and have Siri remind me.

Whew! Now, I think I'll look at my kids photos to remember when their birthdays are.

Wikipedia on EXIF:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Inatek USB 3.0 UASP SATA III 2.5 inch enclosure

Here is a USB 3.0 UASP SATA III 2.5 inch hard drive enclosure that can be had for $18 on Amazon right now.

USB 3.0, SATA III, UASP that is a handful of acronyms isn't it? With UASP support, it will one of the faster enclosures out there designed to be used with Solid State Drives (SSDs).
Overall, this is a pretty good device that is a solid performer with one glaring problem that I will get into later.

Overall, the construction is nice for plastic. I like the quick removal design and the on-and-off button. This is a tool-free enclosure.

Performance wise, it is pretty good. Using a 240GB SATA III Crucial M500 SSD, I was getting close to 300 MB/sec writes and on average, 400MB plus in reads via USB 3.0.

The speed difference is attributed to the UASP ASMedia chipset. UASP chipset is a $3 premium over the regular Inatek USB 3.0 enclosure. The one to get is the FEU3NS-1E pictured on the below.

I guess the only real cosmetic difference with the UASP version is the blue lettering vs white. Again, the $3.00 premium is well worth it. For comparison, here is the same Crucial M500 attached to a USM Seagate 3.0 adapter. The performance difference is noticeable. 400MB/sec reads vs 250MB/sec!

If the speeds are great, so what is my beef with it?

Well, everything is cool except the connector. It uses the USB "A" full size connector. The cable is a dual sided USB A male connector which is an odd choice. I have a gazillion USB 3.0 drives and devices and they all use the Micro-B USB 3.0 flat connector cables. I don't need to carry cables with me from location to location because I often have a pile lying around all over the place. With this, I have to tote the cable along with me to use it. This is my only beef with the product. Overall, it is good and cheap. It does the job but that cable connector is a bit of a let-down.

Amazon Link:
Model # FE2002-US/ FEU3NS-1E.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Six months with the Samsung Chromebook

It has been close to six months since I got my Samsung Exynos (ARM) powered Chromebook.
I've been using quite a bit lately and have some time to reflect on using it.

The same criticism I had in the beginning still hold true. The device is still very limited in what you can do with it. However, it's strengths are the reason I still use it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

VMware ESXi, Xserve, and virtualizing your old Mac server infrastructure

I've been asked quite a bit on this blog, offline and via email about Mac Virtualization. Specifically, virtualizing old Mac OSX servers that previously ran on Apple's discontinued XServes. With VMware's ESXi, you can easily consolidate clusters of old Mac servers into fewer machines and easily provide failover and redundancy. For example if you had 4 Xserves, you can dedicate two as Hypervisors and virtualize all four older Mac Servers on a single machine. With two hypervisors, you would have duplicate and redundant standby failover new Mac servers.

Hopefully, this post will be a guide to help many of those who want to consolidate and virtualize their old Mac OSX 10.6 (and up servers). Think of this as a road-map, blueprint from this fortysome geek. This is my article on running ESXi on the Xserve and virtualizing old Mac servers.

First of all, you will need a few things.
  • VMware's Free Hypervisor server, ESXi version 5.1.0
  • VMware's Desktop Fusion. 
  • an INTEL XEON Power Mac or XServe. My host is a XServe 3,1 which was the last one from 2009.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chromebook making inroads into K-12 Education and growing

I came across this WSJ article on the market share grab of Chromebooks.
You can read the entire article here:

(image: WSJ)

I can totally see this happening. I've interviewed quite a number of schools and I have friends that are in the IT business for schools. Schools are strapped for cash and Chromebooks are highly appealing. They don't have to worry about maintaining servers, infrastructure, security, storage. I am also not surprised at the iPad penetration. Every private school I interviewed for my kids, the iPad was in the curriculum. However, the difference is the Chromebooks are way cheaper to purchase and to maintain from an infrastructure point of view.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. There are those who dismiss Chromebooks but at $200, they're practically disposable and bullet proof for little kids. My five year constantly drops and abuses his Chromebook and we don't even worry about it to much. Most of the school curriculum are web based and unfortunately, many of them still use Adobe Flash so he turns to his Chromebook quite a bit over his iOS device.

In the meantime, Microsoft appoints a new CEO with a strong cloud infrastructure background. There is hope Satya Nadella has some sort of education strategy in place. Today's children are future customers for any of the tech giants.

Here is case study of how a Kentucky private school deployed chromebooks for their middleschoolers. Link:

The most telling quote is this:
"While cost savings can be made on the cost of the hardware alone, the majority of the cost savings originate from savings made from infrastructure and device management.

I think that is what really matters. The infrastructure cost and ease-of-management.

Monday, February 3, 2014

1.24.14 Apple Ad Shot with the iPhone.

So Apple put out a pretty cinematic TV ad, shot entirely on the iPhone. The director was Ridley Scott's son, the editor was the legendary Angus Wall and Lee Clow (Creative Director of the original 1984 Ad) collaborated. The video is pretty impressive but what I liked the most from reading the "behind the scenes" was not about the technology being used. It was .....

It was the chairs. Damn right, I was drooling over the Aluminum Group chairs used by the editing crew. So many of them! I was sitting in my Soft Pad Aluminum Group chair all weekend at home; wondering if I'd ever get the similar chairs at work in the office. That would be such a great perk to have. I rarely sit on mine because I'm rarely in my bedroom office. Most of the time, it is draped under a throw to protect it from the sun but when I sit on mine, I love it. I've been looking to add two more Task Chairs (like the ones pictured below) to compliment my Soft Pad.

(images by Apple)

iMacs, Macbook Pros, even the new trash can 2013 Mac Pro? Nah, I'm more interested in those chairs. Money shot right here folks. In 2-3 years when those computers get listed on Craigslist after their obsolescence, these chairs will still be worth money.

Just look at how many Eames Task chairs they have! Everyone has one. And they're not knock-offs either. $3200 a piece. Just drooling. And you thought I was going to talk about computers and gadgets in this post.