The “IT Guy Kit”

My "IT Guy Kit"

When you work on IT you’re prone to two things: being a geek and carrying a lot of gadgets.

Well, I surely can’t escape my fate, and suffering from both issues (geeking with gadgetry) I have a plethora of things always ready on my “IT Guy Kit”.

Here’s the list:

  1. The kit pouch itself – It’s a Goodis GPS pouch but you can use it to carry anything. It has a decent amount of space for storage and two additional small pouches inside.
  2. TP-LINK M7350 Mobile LTE WIFI router – My main portable router. 4G LTE, 802.11a, with a 2550mAh battery and a 32GB MicroSD card I can share over the network, it’s the perfect router to use outdoors and indoors when your ISP or electricity provider fails.
  3. TP-LINK M5360 Mobile 3G WIFI router – This is my spare router. It’s not as fast as the M7350, but it has more autonomy thanks to a 5200mAh battery. It also doubles as a power bank.
  4. TP-LINK (yeah, I like TP-LINK’s stuff!) TL-PB10400 Power Bank – This sucker can charge a lot of stuff with its 10400mAh. It has two charging ports (1A and 2A) and a bonus flashlight.
  5. WD Passport Ultra 1TB – Storage on the Go. For Virtual Machines, backups and other stuff I don’t want to fill my laptop SSDs with (games, music, emulators, etc…)
  6. SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 Flash Drive 64GB – One of the best USB pens on the market, very fast, but it lacks a lot on the build quality of the materials. It heats up very easily and it should have an Aluminium body instead of plastic.
  7. USB OTG 3 Port Hub & Card Reader LINDY (42626) – This is a hell of a gadget to have around if you are an Android user. Plug it on the USB port of your tablet or phone and you can use it as an SD Card reader or connect other USB devices like a mouse or a keyboard.
  8. Network stuff – Assorted cables, WIFI and Gigabit Ethernet USB adapters; Serial to USB adapter – I often need more than one network connection on my laptop when I’m configuring a router or a firewall so, these are always useful to have around.
  9. urBeats – All around good set of earphones, comfortable on the ear and with a decent quality. Very durable!
  10. VictorInox CyberTool M – Love this guy! It has an insane amount of tools, some of them specific for fixing electronic devices.
  11. Google Nexus 7 (2012) 32GB 3G – Right now I have a love / hate relationship with this tablet. After Google released Lolipop for it, it became useless, slow, buggy. Only after a full rom flash with the latest Android 5.1.1 it became tolerable to work with this thing again…
  12. Samsung Galaxy S6 (not in the photo) – My current phone. Replaced it last month after my HTC One M7 went to warranty due to multiple problems. The S6 is a beast of a phone concerning the hardware, still the TouchWiz could be more polished. It’s not as bloated as it was on earlier Galaxy S phones, but there’s still room for improvement.
  13. Bellroy Very Smal Wallet – Not really a gadget or a tool, but I love this wallet. I dumped my old classic wallet and fitted everything I need in this small pocket wallet. Never been happier without the bulge of papers and receipts I accumulated on my old wallet.

And you? Do you have a kit as well? What do you usually carry arround?

Enter the Server – Part Three

HP Microserver Gen 8

Still on the Gen 8 topic, here’s the lowdown on some questions I was asked:

  • File Sharing – I’m using regular Windows FS in a workgroup environment.
  • Backup – I was using a multitude of solutions for backup here at home: my PC had Backblaze backing up to the cloud, my wife’s PC had Veeam Endpoint Backup backing up for a network share. The QNAP was backing up to a USB HDD. Now I’m changing everything to Crashplan. The Gen8 will backup to the cloud via Crashplan and my PC as well as my wife’s will backup to the Gen 8 via Crashplan client.
  • Plex – Plex Server on the G8. I’m using Chromecast in my living room as a Plex client when I need to watch something served by Plex. Sometimes I use Rasplex as well on my Raspberry PI 2.
  • Private Cloud – BitTorrent Sync – they have clients for every major supported OS and mobile OS. Great to sync everything without having your files stored in a service like Dropbox or MEGA.
  • Download Management – uTorrent
  • SFTP Server – Bitvise SSH Server Personal Edition – Free for personal use. Very very good SSH server with lots of options and customization.
  • VPN Server – Windows Server VPN service.

Enter the Server – Part Two

HP Proliant MicroServers Gen 8
Yes, there is a kit with 3 exchangeable faceplates for the Gen8.

After I got the Gen 8, it was testing time. I knew the roles I wanted for my new server:

  • File Sharing
  • Backup
  • Plex
  • Private Cloud
  • Download Management
  • SFTP Server
  • VPN Server

When the hardware arrived I had to improvise a bit, since the budget I had, was not enough for the “perfect configuration”, so I had to settle with what I bought and with what I already had.

The “perfect configuration” I mentioned before would be IMHO, to upgrade the CPU for a Intel Xeon E3-1265LV2, 16GB of RAM, 4x 4TB WD RED, a 250GB SSD for the OS or a 64GB Micro SD to boot VMWare ESXi, running an entire virtualized solution.

The bundled CPU is a Celeron G1610T, and it’s not very powerful (2 cores @ 2.3 GHz) to run VMs, but enough to run the roles I had in mind. I just needed a few more gigs of RAM and my father got me an 8GB DIMM he had laying arround that luckily was compatible with the Gen8.

So from 2GB I was now sporting 10GB of RAM which, BTW, helps a lot with the HP B120i Controller. It’s not a great controller, but for the price I don’t think it could get better. Still, if you want, there’s a PCI-E expansion slot inside the server that you can use to add another controller (or anything else).

As for the storage, I got 2x 3TB WD Red drives, I managed to scavenge some WD Green drives I had lying around. So, my current storage configuration is:

  • 1 TB drive for the OS
  • 2 TB drive for laptop backups, guest file sharing, private cloud and downloads
  • 2 x 3TB drives in RAID 1 for the main storage (photos, documents, movies, tv series, music, etc…)

As for the OS, I tried a few. FreeNAS was the first. It resembled a lot of the NAS OSs you can find in regular NAS, but a bit behind QNAP and Synology OSs. It’s very powerful and robust, it’s based on FreeBSD, but the configuration is not very user-friendly. The Plex server configuration didn’t go as smooth as it should. Still, it’s on my top 10.

Second was CentOS 7. It all ran smoothly, with an exception (very big exception that also happened with FreeNAS): the Gen8 has only on big fan for the entire system. With CentOS, the fan would not lower from 16% and the temperature sensors on the server ILO reported temperature a bit higher than expected. This is probably related with how CentOS handles the Gen8 ACPI or some drivers… either way, I didn’t have time or the patience to look for a solution.

For Synology fans, there’s also a hack of the Synology OS for X86 machines – XPEnology – but maybe because I was trying to install and boot it from the MicroSD, I didn’t have success installing it 🙁 Also, it seemed a bit too much of a hack and by then I was trying to use the Gen 8 as a full server and not just as a NAS.

I then realized that I had my Technet copy of Windows Server 2012 R2 unused 🙂 and like I work with W2k12 on a daily basis… why the hell not?

Every piece of software I need is available on Windows. As an added layer of data protection, online backup plans like Crashplan and Backblaze also run on Windows (still Backblaze doesn’t run on Windows Server or Linux). HP drivers usually are very well optimized for Windows Server, so I went ahead.

The setup was very smooth. After I installed the OS, I ran the Service Pack DVD with the latest drivers and firmware from HP and some Windows Updates later, I noticed that the temperature readings dropped a lot compared with CentOS 7. When idle, the fan doesn’t go beyond 7% even when my office is at the peak of the heat and I don’t have Air Conditioning over here, just a window. The server is very silent, and notice, that my QNAP NAS was fanless!

So, now I have my Gen8 running all the services and roles I need. Is it perfect? No, not yet, there’s still room for improvement. Perhaps when I have the time and money I might try to carry out more and transform this into a VMWare server. Right now the most important for me is that I got full fledge server that suits my needs, cheaper than a NAS, and you can’t beat a good deal like that 😀

Tips for the Gen 8
  • The best site you can go to for info on the Gen8, is this forum on the HomeServerShow site. The info they have there is precious and it was a deal breaker for me when I was considering to buy the Gen8.
  • The Gen8 has a micro sd slot on the board that you can use to boot OSs like VMWare ESXi and FreeNAS. If you don’t want to use it to boot the OS, you can still use it to keep files normally. Get a 64GB or more MicroSD and you got another storage place on your Gen 8.
  • The entry-level Gen8 I got does not come with an optical drive. Although you can get one, with all the USB ports on the server, you can boot anything from a USB pen or HDD. Besides that, you still have the virtual drives on the ILO.  Skip the optical drive and get an SSD to put there instead and boot the OS.

Feel free to ask me anything about the Gen 8, here in the comments on Twitter. I’ll be glad to share more info on this with you.

Update: Here’s part three.

Enter the Server – Part One

Qnap-TS 119

I had a QNAP TS-119 unit as my home NAS for as long as six years. It worked very well until recently it began to corrupt the OS data in the HDD as well as the USB HDD connected to the unit for backup.

Even with a new HDD fitted in the unit and several clean firmware updates, after a few months, the NAS would show a lot of errors in the logs, regarding the HDD. SMART checks and other tests a like didn’t show any problems with the HDD…

This and the fact that the NAS was a one bay model really got me worried about loosing data and so, I began searching for a replacement.

My requisites were simple:

  • two or four bays
  • RAID capable
  • gigabit networking
  • at least one USB 3.0 port
  • a decent CPU
  • 2GB of RAM to run some processes
  • a decent price 😛

I first looked at QNAP and Synology, since they make the best NAS models in my opinion. Both OSs are Linux-based with a lot of functionalities, applications and stuff geeks like me love to play with.

At the end of the day, a NAS is nothing more than a server, a little dumbed down on the hardware. QNAP and Synology have good hardware and their OSs make most of it giving the user the ability to run applications and services like you would on a normal server… it’s a bit limited but it’s useful and cool.

Nowadays, having a NAS at home provides you with a personal cloud, since most brands have their own personal cloud service embedded in the NAS OS. Still you can always install your own options, like a VPN, SFTP server, HTTP/HTTP server, BT Sync, etc…

But I digress… looking at the NAS models from QNAP and Synology that would fit my needs, I suddenly found a pattern… they were all too expensive for my budget. I still needed to buy two WD Red 3GB drives for the new NAS, and this would bring the total up to more than I wanted to spend.

I looked at another brands like Western Digital and Netgear, but I found that their OSs were rather limited comparing to QNAP and Synology. All that apps, bells and whistles I mentioned before were not available entirely in these brands OS.

HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8

That’s when a friend of mine sent me a link for an HP Proliant Microserver Gen 8. The HP Microserver Gen8 is the follow-up model to HP’s Gen 7, which was talked a lot because of the form factor and the HP MediaSmart Server that it replaced.

The Gen8 (for now on) was released in 2014 and it had a lot of advantages compared to a NAS: the entry-level model, with a Intel Celeron G1610T, 2GB RAM, 2 Gigabit ports, one ILO port, several USB ports (some of them 3.0) and four HDD bays (!) would cost me about 250 Eur. With that price I could only get a two bay entry-level NAS from QNAP or Synology and this was a full fledge server, I could run anything I wanted there with almost no limitations.

So you guess right, this was a no brainer, I got the Gen8 and I’ll tell you more about this awesome micro server in part 2.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – The Movie

This mock trailer for a 80’s style sci-fi movie is pure awesomeness! Awesome marketing!

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon

This is sooooo 80’s! Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is set to be released in May for PS3, X360 and PC as an whole game, as you don’t need the original Far Cry 3 to play it.

The awesome sound track is by Powerglove and it’s an entire trip to the 80’s electronica. You can listen to it here 🙂

Goodbye Steve

Thank you for a hell of a ride. The World won’t be the same without you.

 

 

Apple releases iPhone 4S, World cries in pain!



I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror… I feared something terrible has happened. I launched my browser to find out that it were just Apple fan boys crying hysterically about the new iPhone 4S. The bitching started yesterday and is yet to end…

So Apple released the new iPhone 5 iPhones 4S and it doesn’t make popcorn, but hey, you can still be a happy camper and send a postcard to your granny! Or you can talk to it on those lonely nights!

Now, now, enough of this poison, let’s get constructive. Apple releases a new smartphone, a great smartphone but since it doesn’t live up to the ridiculous rumor mill the Internet has been feeding, most of the fan boys go on a tantrum… most of them, because others go the opposite way and start saying that the new iPhone 4S is the pinnacle of innovation and this is where I stop them with a shovel to the face!

The iPhone 4S is an awesome piece of engineering, it builds on the last model, upgrading it to what might be considered the standards, the problem is, that those standards this time were not set by Apple, but by other companies like Google and Samsung. Yes whining fan boy, the Android folk stole your spotlight. There’s not a single piece of innovation on this model, nothing you can’t find on actual Android phones. Wanna bet?

  • Siri – Android has voice commands for a butt load of years, Google voice app comes in every Android phone and it’s even available for iOS. My Samsung Galaxy S II even comes with an extra layer, powered by Vlingo, which, by the way, has an app for most smartphones available including your old iPhone 4 🙂 Is it good? I don’t know, I don’t speak to my phone… and I bet you won’t either.
  • Dual Core CPU – Check…
  • 1080p video / 8Mpx Cam – Check and Check… Oh and a 2Mpx front cam 😀
  • Notification system – Really? Are you going there? Android has a notification system like, since… always. Copied by Apple byw.
  • Reminders – Yippeee! A Todo app included in the OS! Thanks Apple for screwing the life of the 100000 developers who have todo apps in the App Store! Oh, yeah, Android has them too. A dime a dozen!
  • FindMyFriend – Oh come on! This one is plain dirty! Gowalla and Foursquare are two of the most popular apps in the iOS ecosystem, developed for iOS from day one. And Apple does what? Stabs them in the back and include a location app in the OS! Great move Apple, competing with the devs that made your OS popular! And yes… Android has them too… and Google Latitude.
  • Twitter integration – That one is cool! Let me know when all the apps on your phone integrate with the OS…
  • iTunes in the cloud – Google Music
  • Photo Stream – Picassa Web Albums
  • Documents in the Cloud – Google Docs
Want me to go on? Sorry, I don’t have the time. My advice to the fan boys? Stop bitching and bite the bullet! iPhone 4S is a great phone, the best Apple did so far, but be real about it and stop saying that it’s the best smartphone on the market, because it isn’t.
Apple is now up to the market standards, maybe innovation comes with the iPhone 5, but for now, enjoy the upgrade.

 

 

 

 

Bye bye iOS, Hello Android

Yes, I’ve gone Android.

For those who know me that might come as a shock. I’m a big Apple fan, I have a Mac since 2007 and never thought of going back to Linux or Windows (until recently with Lion’s release, but those are another 2 cents).

I got an iPhone 3G when they were released in Portugal. The first year using it was awesome, the second was normal, after that Apple turned my phone into a zombie. The last iOS 4 update, 4.2, left my phone crippled, unusable, with most of the new features left out. Still I used it for what I could… email, Twitter, music and a few apps.

Everything else was a bloated and dreadful experience, even the mere act of typing something in the keyboard was a torture, it literally froze the keys for a few seconds. My 3G became a pale shadow of the awesome phone it once was.

I needed a new device, it didn’t have to be a phone, I could perfectly live my daily digital life with a tablet, email, Facebook, Twitter, a good browser, WordPress support and I was set… but there was a problem: I was sick of iOS.

For me, as an iOS user, I got almost no new features for my 3G with iOS 4. So sticking with the same OS for 3 years in a row, can get you pretty tired of it.

I’m up to date on iOS info and rumors. I know what’s new for iOS 5 and I’ve played with a few iPhones 4… and even with all the new bells n’ whistles, I wasn’t buying it. Plus, with a new iPhone 4S or 5 or whatever Apple is going to release in October, it was more of the same.

So, as an Apple fan, I considered buying an iPad, same eco-system but with a few differences here and there, enough to give me something usable and new to explore. I’ve played with a few iPads from friends and co-workers. Hell of a machine. It was on my buy list, until Android crept in…

 

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