A Biased Review of Amahi Home Server

The PR-savvy folks at Amahi recently chimed in on the Vail-Fail fiasco by presenting Amahi as an alternative to the Windows Home Server (Vail) solution, and I thought I should give it a run for the money to see how it stacks up.

In short: not well at all.

First, the good things: when configured properly, Amahi offers DLNA/uPNP streaming and the ability to send h264 streams to iPod/iPad/iPhone devices. It also supports backups, disk spanning, remote access, dynamic DNS (*.yourhda.com) and a slew of other features that should have you salivating by now.

The bad? None of it works out of the box.

In order to set up an Amahi server, you must first complete a Fedora 12 install. That’s right, Fedora 12. Not 13 or 14, don’t be confused. Just like most open source software, Amahi suffers from circular dependency issues if you choose the wrong version and the wrong repository – be warned. (Note: if you want to use current versions of Fedora, make sure to change the repository to either f13.amahi.org or f14.amahi.org and realize that there are no plugins for either).

Fedora 12 is a relatively easy install, but when you’re manually setting IP configurations, you lose most of the WHS market in one fell swoop. Fail?

After the install has completed, you logon to Fedora and run the Amahi installer. You’re met with a logon screen. What username and password to use? Pick anything and you’ve just been made an admin. Security by obscurity or brainless UI design? I think it’s the latter.

This install will take almost as long as the Fedora build, which is counter-intuitive. Why not simply chain the install? Why not build a freaking fork that contains Amahi? I’m ranting here, but I find this bit incredibly odd, especially since Amahi has specific OS requirements.

OK, we’ve survived, we’ve realized that eth0 is the only card available to buy facebook fans Amahi by now, and through process of elimination we’ve figured out which port Fedora has decided this is. We’ve realized the firewall has been disabled, we’ve entered the activation code and received an email letting us know that we now own http://im.yourhda.com

Huzzah.

Let’s start packing it full of media like facebook likes, eh? We’ll need disks for that, but they are in the case so we should be OK – let’s add a disk to Amahi and let the good times roll. Oh wait, you can’t do that. Why not? It needs to be done via commandline. OK, getting the sleeves rolled up is fun once in a while, disks added.

Let’s add some media to the disks. Done. the transfer speed is a good 10% faster than WHS, and 50% faster than Vail. Good news. But you have to use SCP to do it… The Samba sharing doesn’t actually work out of the box (fixed later in Fedora). More fail.

Alright, media is on the device, let’s play some. Pop on the TV, have a look for uPNP or DLNA devices. None. Hmm. Oh yeah, it’s not even added yet.

Civilization 5 Tactics and Strategies

This post will outline and detail strategies, tips, tricks, cheats and tactics for Sid Meier’s Civilization V (Civ5/CivV). Call it an FAQ of sorts.

Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Some quick observations:

  • Open borders allows you to surround an enemy, then attack. This works wonders later on.
  • The trebuchet seems a bit overpowered, and is definitely the best way to attack cities.
  • The easiest way I know of to skip the first intro movie is to simply rename “Civ5_Opening_Movie_en_US.wmv” to something else.
  • Alternatively, edit the “usersettings.ini” file found in “My Documents\My Games\Sid Meiers Civilization 5\”. Make sure to change “SkipIntroVideo=0” to “=1” on line 15.
  • For a copy of the English manual for Civ5, head here
  • How to turn on workers automatically keeping improvements
    In the My Documents folder go to the Civ V folder and then look for the “usersettings.ini” file.

    There is a setting called AutoWorkersDontReplace. Change the value from 0 to 1.

Macbook Pro 15″ i5 Unibody Upgrades

I’ve finally purchased a MacBook Pro, and things are going pretty well. Most of my work these days involves using servers for heavy lifting, but I still use Windows 7 from time to time, and Lightroom 3 almost all the time.

Unfortunately, Lightroom 3’s catalog is essentially a database of photos, and the more you put in it, the more slowly it will run. In this case, the MacBook Pro’s stock 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive just isn’t cutting the mustard. Simple actions like scrolling through images from the last import can be painful. Using Firefox or Chrome while importing makes everything crawl, and I’m forced to look for entertainment in Meat Space. The horror!

I know, “it can’t be that bad” is what you’re thinking. It is. Imports can take up to an hour. While on vacation, the last thing I want to be doing is waiting for imports of photos I’ve already taken while I could be out taking more photos.

I mentioned the fact that I use Windows 7 on the MBP. This is via either Boot Camp or VMware Fusion (running the Boot Camp partition). Things work swimmingly in Boot Camp, but I really have to be careful in Fusion because many of the newer Mac applications are RAM-hungry, and you start paging to disk quickly. Since the disk is so slow, you’re at a standstill within minutes.

So the problem essentially boils down to two things, both of which could have been resolved at time of purchase had I looked into the specs a bit further.

  1. Not enough memory
  2. Hard drive too slow

Costs add up

The memory upgrade, direct from Apple, via their online store, is a whopping $420. The hard drive upgrade from 320GB 5400 RPM to 500GB 7200 RPM is $158. Together I would have shelled out $578 in order to get the system where I think it needs to be.

Enter the Apple Technician

In the not-so-distant past, I repaired Apple laptops for a certified depot. It used to be pretty difficult as some of the Mac laptops had an inordinate amount of screws of varying sizes and dizzying teardown diagrams. I would say I was competent, but it really wasn’t something enjoyable. That said, I have been out of the game for a bit, and things have seemingly gotten much easier for the majority of Apple laptops. Often, you can simply remove the bottom case to gain access to wireless cards, Bluetooth, SuperDrive, hard drive and memory. And such is the case with the Macbook Pro 15″ i5.

Using the diagrams found at iFixIt, I was able to confirm that only a little bit of work would be needed to perform the upgrades. That means I save money on labour, which isn’t cheap.

Price Comparison

I was able to source hard drives at the 500GB capacity ranger running at 7200RPM for very cheap. I’d be looking at around $80, worst case. But being spoiled on other computers running solid state drives, I thought I should look into the option of adding an SSD instead. Though they have come down in price, getting larger capacity SSD drives can run upwards of $400 easily. Ouch. I decided to settle on one of Seagate’s newly-released “hybrid” drives that combine 4GB of superfast SSD with 500GB of traditional rotating platter storage. This should hopefully give me the best of both worlds. The cost? About $140. That’s definitely a few dollars less than the “off the shelf” Apple price, though it’s also double the cost of a typical 500GB 2.5″ hard disk. But speed is the issue to address, and I’m confident the HDD will address that. My only concern will be the speed of the platters may produce noise.

The memory for a MacBook Pro i5 is slightly harder to find. It took some poking around to find the exact speed and latency of the chips, as I want to make sure the logic board won’t complain, and no unforeseen issues would be introduced. After looking at Kingston’s website, I was able to deduce that the full specifications of the RAM are as follows:

  • Format – 204 pin SODIMM
  • Speed – PC3-8500 / DDR3 1066MHz
  • Latency – 7-7-7-20

This is not cheap memory. We’re talking high speed, high density, low latency RAM. After searching high and low, I came across some Mushkin RAM that was Mac certified. I wasn’t even aware that Mushkin made Mac certified RAM, but boy was I happy. The cost for an 8GB pair of 4GB SODIMM modules was only $260! In case you’re interested, the part number is “996644”, and I still don’t see a better deal from ANY vendor for memory this fast with timings this tight. Even for PC.

Our current total is sitting at $400. That’s less than even the RAM would cost from Apple.

Going Forward

Not to miss any opportunities, I decided to go one step further. Removing the memory and hard drive would leave me with spare parts. These could be sold on Craigslist locally for cheap, or I could re-use them. Use for the hard drive is pretty easy: Time Machine backup. A $20 external AcomData 2.5″ Ruggedized Samurai enclosure would fit the bill well, but the last thing you want to do on vacation is lug around cables and accessories. In my experience, they either get lost or forgotten (or both). This may not be the case for everyone, but I actually rarely use optical media. My data is transferred using USB sticks if I need to sneakernet, over wifi or LAN if I need to backup (and again to another location off-site to be safe) and when I do make audio “mixtapes”, it’s not often as I use an iPod for music.

So here I have a useless device taking up space in the laptop. Some digging, and looking at the tear-down told me a 2.5″ hard drive could fit in there easily. Excellent, a use for the old drive that takes up no extra space! Of course, like many good ideas I think I have come up with first, someone had “been there, done that” before, and you can buy full kits online for cheap. I found two companies that sell these: MCE and OWC. I opted for OWC because I really don’t have a need for the external optical drive that MCE throws in for “free”, creating a $20 difference in price as I have a Lacie DVD-RW already. Cost of this part: $80. (MCE’s is around $100 if you still might need that SuperDrive)

The total now sits at $480. More than the cost of the RAM, but still considerably less than the over $700 cost to have Apple do this at time of purchase. If you had messed up and bought the lower-end 15″ i5 Macbook Pro, there would also be at least an hour of labour on top. Typically that would run about $150.

I’m left with 2x 2GB DDR3 SODIMM modules, which might be hard to get rid of at any price, though they make a good upgrade for Mac Mini users. I’ve looked high and low for DDR3 SODIMM “RAMDisks” to no avail. I realize these aren’t the best devices, and never really had a following, but it would certainly be handy to have on one of the servers. One can only dream, I suppose.

So there you have it, cheap upgrade, easy install, no regrets. Preliminary testing tells me that the boot time has been halved, and Lightroom is much faster, though it’s not as fast as running it on my Mac Pro with SSD.

At some point I will probably look at replacing the second internal drive with a solid state boot drive when I replace the Intel X25-M G2 80GB in the Mac Pro with a SandForce SSD, and I will make sure to post some speeds when that frabjous day finally arrives.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Beta 2 Video

Lightroom 3 Beta 2 became available for download today here:

https://www.adobe.com/cfusion/entitlement/index.cfm?e=labs_lightroom3

You can also check out the new new features here:

Video: What’s New in LR3 beta 2

This comes just in time for me! Can’t wait to try out the new features and kick the tires a bit. LR3 Beta 1 was slightly unstable when doing imports – hopefully they’ve addressed this.

I would love to be able to pre-order Lightroom 3 if I could, and simply have it the moment it’s available as most of the work I do involves Lightroom and Illustrator.

Enjoy the videos, folks!

Windows Home Server in VMware Fusion 3

I set off on a quest to get the home backup / media server / remote access solution Windows Home Server with Power Pack 3 running inside of VMware Fusion 3 running on top of Apple OSX Snow Leopard (10.6).

Why, you ask? Simply because I thought I could… and it works good with traderush so please don’t ask me if is traderush legit A little while after downloading the Windows Home Server trial, it became apparent that there was no selection for this operating system. No matter, I thought, it’s based on Windows Server 2003, so I should simply be able to select that, right? Unfortunately not that easy. First, the hard disk type selected by default by VMware Fusion is SCSI. Without a driver disk (virtual floppy), you’ll have no luck. Also, the amount of memory available doesn’t meet the Windows Home Server requirements.

My method?

Try these settings:

– Windows Server 2003 Web Server

– No “easy install” settings

– 512MB RAM

– Remove the default HDD

– Add an 80GB IDE HDD

– Make sure the ISO is mounted

Things seem to be working at this point.

Hope this helps someone, I trawled Google and the Fusion forums with no luck.

Free Ebook – Windows Vista Resource Kit Second Edition

As part of Microsoft’s 25th anniversary, the Windows Vista Resource Kit, 2nd Ed. PDF (covering Vista SP1) download, is being offered as a free download for a limited time. 

Shame we don’t get the accompanying CD, but all the same, this is a very good book (coming from someone who uses the first edition). 

Download here

g4u and Virtualization

A quick note about g4u – g4u (Ghost for you) is a hard disk imaging tool similar to Norton Ghost, but without the cost. g4u allows you to image hard disks to both files and physical media. This can be accomplished within a physical machine, a virtual machine, or by using an FTP server on either of the two.

Right Click Using Your Keyboard (Windows)

Here’s a quick tip:

You can right-click just as if you were using a mouse, but without using your mouse, using the shift and F10 keys together.

For example, if you’d like to extract a .RAR in a directory, simply press END, cursor up, then shift+F10 and extract! Voila! Easy as pie extract in every folder in windows with 4 keystrokes.

More tips coming soon as the new year kicks off to a good start folks!

GRID Cheat Codes

Note that while these cheats may unlock cars that you want to own, the only one I would recommend is the Pagani Zonda R, for use in your first season.

Here’s why: much of the money you get from this game is through sponsors. When driving any of these cars, you will not get any sponsor money, as they are all ready “branded”, to use the GRID term.

That said, it’s pretty neat to unlock all of the drift cars as I find those events next to impossible, and some of you may find that having the muscle cars unlocked is a nifty trick.

Finally, if you want to race the car you’ve unlocked and have the money, you can actually purchase a new car, brand it, slap some sponsor logos on it, and you can race that to you heart’s content while being showered with oodles of dough in the hopes of signing some million dollar rookie.

Good luck!

TUN58396
– All drift cars

MUS59279

– All muscle cars

F93857372

– Buchbinder 320si Livery

M38572343

– Free Pagani Zonda R

P47203845

– Play.com Livery

G29782655

– Unlock a BMW 320si for Use in Grid World and Raceday. Locked to Gamestation Livery

eCamperVanHire

– Unlock vans and you can race with them.Really fun.