Home network 2.0

Although the weather isn’t showing it yet Spring is just around the corner and one of my long put off home projects is a technology overhaul.  I had fully intended to do this project shortly after buying the condo back in 2009 but a combination of travel, work, getting married and other priorities had pushed most of this off until recently.  I bought a new camera earlier this year, Nikon D7000 which is just a fantastic piece of gear but along with that I started shooting most everything in RAW format and needed a newer computer than my four year old Mac Mini in order to process photos with any type of efficiency and to run better software e.g. Photoshop.

Now that I had the camera, next up was the computer.  The last two computers I’ve bought have both been from Apple.  I got a Macbook back in 2006 and the Mini about a year later.  While both are still running just fine and are nice to use and very stable, they’re also both lacking the horsepower needed for higher volume photo manipulation due to their on board Intel graphics cards.

After evaluating the price to features for another Apple I came to the conclusion that I would need either a mid-range MacBook Pro or an iMac.  However either of those options are roughly twice the cost of buying a Dell, HP or other Windows based system and I already have a nice 24″ Samsung display so the iMac was a tough sell.  So I opted for a Dell with a higher end i5 processor, a bunch of memory and a beefy video card.  This came in a nice slim tower case and all for $700.

Not content to stop there I also bought a solid state hard drive (SSD) from Amazon, in this case an OCZ Vertex 2 120GB model with the idea of using that for the OS and programs and the 1 Terabyte drive that the system came with will be for pictures, video etc…

All of this showed up on my doorstep over the past week and I’ve been going about getting this new system up and running.  Just in case, I made a disk image of the stock Dell hard drive should I ever need to roll back to factory configuration, downloaded all the Dell specific NIC, video and chipset drivers, updated the BIOS and then just for kicks I ran the Windows Experience index tool on the system just to see where it was at before and after updating to the much faster SSD.  Here’s how the system ran prior to putting in the SSD along with a clean install of Windows to ditch all the Dell add-on software.

So that’s not all that bad really and it booted from powered off to the login prompt in about 30 seconds flat but I think it can do better.

Enter the SSD

After some fiddling with yet another of Dell’s differing methods of mounting hard drives within the case I got the drive installed and was ready to install Windows.  Note:  if you decide to install an SSD in your own machine, make sure that the BIOS is up to date and that you set the disk to AHCI before you get started with the fresh install.

Installing Windows off a DVD seems so 2007 so I opted for the much quicker installation off of a USB stick.  I found a good set of instructions on this over on www.winsupersite.com and after 15 minute worth of waiting around while Windows loaded up on the USB stick I was ready to go.  Now I expected this process to be quick based on the much higher read/write speed of the SSD but I was shocked by how quickly this install went.  From the time I booted the PC up to the USB stick to the time Windows was installed and I logged in for the first time…eight minutes, forty seven seconds.  Yes that’s right 8:47 to fully install Windows 7.

Right off the bat I installed the missing drivers for chipset, NIC and video card then on to Anti-virus.  Usually Symantec takes a few minutes to install, this time it was about 45 seconds.  Wow.  I shut down the system to see what the boot time would look like now with the SSD in place, and the same boot up that had taken 30 seconds was now complete in only 14 seconds. Wow again, I’ve never seen a machine boot that fast.  I ran the Windows Experience tool again at this point:

Not to shabby, overall I picked up .1 but that score is determined by the lowest subscore, the thing that really stood out was the disk data transfer rate which jumped up from 5.9 to 7.4.

This machine is just fantastic, I haven’t had a PC this fast since the last one I built way back in 2003 that had a 1.8Ghz AMD processor, a whopping 1GB of RAM (333mhz!) and a DVD burner that I had paid about $200 for that wrote at 4x on disks that cost $1.25 each if you bought in bulk.

Overall I couldn’t be happier with the results of this project, the machine is fast, quiet and easily deals with PhotoShop and anything else I’ve thrown at it.  The SSD while an expensive purchase for the size of the drive is totally worth it so far and if this trend continues I’ll probably look at similar upgrades for KMJ and who knows maybe even the old Mac’s we have around the house.  The Mini will make a great media center PC but that’s for another time.

What about the network?

I’ve been using a trusty Linksys WRT54G for about six years now loaded up with the some alternate firmware, DD-WRT.  It’s been rock solid and until about a year ago was doing it’s job reliably day in and day out.  Then out of the blue the wireless started lagging, I first noticed this on the Xbox when games would lag and connections would reset.  Then the wireless performance on the laptops started fading.  So maybe it’s time for a replacment, but what to buy.  Obviously I wanted something with wireless N and also gigabit Ethernet, that narrows it down to well, everything on the market.

Everyones got an opinion on this topic, you can find and equal number of great and lousy reviews for anything out there.  So I decided to stick with Linksys/Cisco and went with the latest and greatest E4200.

So far it’s great, the internet is substantially faster on both wired and wireless networks and the power line adapters we’re using for the Xbox which is at the opposite end of the house actually allow the console to connect without having to use the “test xbox live” function every time.

I’ve not delved into the storage options on the router that allow you to connect a USB drive but I think we’ll use that at some point for media sharing between our machine.  I’ll post on that later once it’s been setup.

So what’s next?

Next up will be putting in an offsite backup plan to safeguard the data we care about, mostly pictures and some video/music.  My current thought is to use Crash Plan for that purpose but I’m not quite there yet.  So for now all I can say is everything works substantially better than it did at this time last week and I’ve got a couple months worth of pictures to work on

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When in India

For the third year in a row now I’ve found myself visiting our office in India this time for relocation to a new space so I hope my co-workers here are happy with our efforts! I was actually there for nearly two weeks and though time and space really just blurred into a one long series of events as we worked very long days and a couple times overnight attempting to coordinate with folks here in Delhi while maintaining a late night/early morning meeting schedule in Seattle to support the work going on here. My memories a bit hazy from all that happened in India and since (and the paint fumes in the new work space) but here’s the blow by blow as far as I can remember.

Day 1

Left Seattle and had an uneventful flight to Amsterdam arriving early on Saturday morning to freezing temperatures and a light coating of snow on the ground. Hung around the airport, which is one of my favorites in terms of ease of getting around and things to look at while waiting for the next flight. The Riijks Museum has an outlet in the airport with a small selection of their collection and KLM has a nice lounge to pass a couple hours in.

The flight to Delhi was slated to board just after 10:00 AM but was delayed a while due to some icing on the boarding ramp, we finally got on the plane an hour late by boarding through the rear door and I fell asleep very soon afterwards. Woke up about three hours later to discover we were still on the ground and that a blizzard had come from no where dropping 3-4 inches of snow, then I fell asleep again. Two hours later I woke up when the attendant tapped me to put my seat upright for take off and we’re off.

Landed in Delhi at 3:30 AM, found my driver and got to the hotel just after 4:00 AM by which point I was wide awake having slept nearly the whole flight plus the time spent on the ground. Got the internet working and by 5:30 was happily watching the Huskies win their way into a bowl game after beating WSU and mentally planning for a trip to San Diego after Christmas.

Grabbed breakfast around 8:30 then fell asleep for six hours.

Met up with our local IT guru, Kishore, and took a ride over to the new office space then grabbed some Chinese food and beer. We amused ourselves watching a table of about 15 Korean guys finish off 40 large (650 Ml bottles) King Fishers and two bottles of Scotch and polished off some Tourborgs (Danish beer), fried pork and lamb. Back at the hotel I promptly passed out.

Day 2

Headed to the office around 9:00 and realized we would need to work all night Monday to move servers and networking gear to the new office space so we decided to leave work at 2:30 and meet back up at 9:00 that night. Around 6:00 we finally left, got dinner and then headed back to work for a long and tiring night.

Day 3

At 8:00 AM the move of our network gear was completed to the new office and we headed back out for sleep. By 2:00 PM we were back at the office and stayed until about 11:00 to make sure things were all connected since to the internet and network.

Days 4-8

Between the turpentine being used by the painters and other construction related chemicals I don’t remember much, we did get many things done including moving all the users belongings into the space but it’s all really a blur. Each day was wake up, eat, work late, eat, pass out and trying to accommodate working with colleagues in Seattle 9000 miles and 13.5 hours time difference away meant I was on a 7:00 AM to 1:00 AM work schedule.

We had some great dinners during this time from cuisines representing areas all over the country; tandoori lamb, slow cooked lentils that stew for four days, more lamb, chicken kebab, seven different types of Nan and some super yummy shrimp that were coated with 15+ different spices and fried. Just really excellent meals all around.

Day 9

Finally took a day off to sleep in and drive around town. Another co-worker arrived today and we went shopping and toured the Red Fort in Delhi along with a couple other folks from Seattle that had flown out for the move. It was a nice relaxing day but all good things come to an end and I was back in the office that night for what became another all night troubleshooting session on various electronic components with the local vendors but at least the coffee machine was working by that point.

Day 10-12

More routine working from the office by day and making conference calls and working on email by night. It was at this point that I really started to hit the wall.

Day 13

What could possibly be more fun than spending 20 hours in an airplane? To be fair there was a nice layover in Amsterdam and there’s a great shower in the KLM lounge that I took full advantage of. Did a bit of shopping and then homeward bound.

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Beware of the cat

I haz super powersz

These are our cats, Seamus (the orange one) and Marion.  Since both of them have some issues with portion control and could stand to lose a couple pounds we’ve had them on a pretty controlled diet for about the past eight months.  Both KMJ and I were feeling like things were going well since Marion lost two pounds, was super energetic, playful and full of life which is great since he’s around 10 at this point.  Then he started having some problems doing his business and I ended up taking him to the vet one morning.  Turns out that aside from some kidney stone like problems he also had a thyroid imbalance that was causing you guessed it, weight loss, erratic behavior etc…

The treatment for this was either two pills a day for life and more frequent trips to the vet or an injection of radioactive iodine which had more up front cost but is a permanent cure.   Not wanting to deal with the pills every day we opted for the latter and pretty soon I was dropping Marion off at a different vet for treatment.  Things were going well and they took him away for the injection and a couple days of isolation until his level of radioactivity had gone down enough to be safe around people and other pets.  The real down side of this was for the past two weeks we’ve had to avoid prolonged contact e.g. no cats on the lap, on the bed at night etc.. which has meant shutting doors at night and listening to cat’s howling and scratching all night, on the bright side they woke us up every day right on time.

I’m still waiting to find out if Marion developed any super powers as a result of his treatment, so far the only power seems to be an enhanced ability to wake us up at all hours of the night for attention.

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Dining in NYC Part II – WD-50

So like I said in an earlier post I’ve got this hit list of places I want to try out in New York once I finally got there and WD-50 was high on the list. I really enjoy dinners where the chef presents familiar things in unfamiliar ways to challenge the senses with different textures and tastes. I had high hopes going into this dinner and for the most part they were fulfilled with only a couple stumbles along the way but more on that later.

After a couple of excellent cocktails at the bar we sat down for dinner which started off with a Surf Clam very simply prepared, at least when compared to the courses that would follow.

The second course was where things started to get really interesting; it was everything bagel ice cream with a dried smoked salmon and what I think was like a freeze dried cream cheese. I had my doubts but this dish worked for me

Moving on the third course was Foie Gras with Passion fruit and Chinese celery, it was good but there was a bit of an weird texture there since everything was creamy yet pasty if that makes any sense. The celery saved this one for me but it was still an odd texture though the taste of the dish was excellent. The surprise with this course was the passion fruit being encased in the Foie Gras.

Next up was egg ravioli with kampachi and charred avocado, it’s a square egg! How great is that? And those potatoes! How did they chop those so finely, with a razor blade? This was a great dish and one of my favorites of the night, with a firm cooked egg exterior and a soft scrambled egg interior when combined with the fish and avocado this was just a great combination of temperatures, textures and flavors.

At this point I was thinking they wouldn’t be able to top this but then comes the cold fried chicken. Now I had seen this dish on TV about a month ago and was intrigued since the preparation was so involved and in keeping with the angular theme it was a rectangular piece of fried chicken served with ricotta mash “potato”, caviar and a honey-Tabasco sauce.

Now onto the fish, this was the first of several Stripped Bass courses that we would eat during our time in New York, but certainly the most unique in its preparation. There was a dried chorizo under the fish along with a nicely grilled chunk of pineapple and tying the dish together was a popcorn mousse. Different but good.

The next course was Beef Béarnaise which sounded straight forward enough, but knowing where we were eating you just knew this would be something different. In this case the ingredients normally in the béarnaise sauce were combined into a ball (similar to a matzo ball) and served with a beef consommé. KMJ prefers not to eat the beef so she was handed a Israeli Couscous with mushroom chips in a cheddar cheese consommé. This wasn’t my favorite dish, I liked it well enough but it just didn’t fully work for me, KMJ’s dish was great though and I wish I’d had that instead.

Our last savory courses were a Lamb with a black garlic romesco and pickled ramps for me, and a pork loin with brown butter sauce for KMJ. Both were excellent flavor wise but my lamb was a little tough. Overall though we enjoyed both dishes and they were a great way to end this part of the meal.

Now for dessert’s

We started the transition from savory too sweet with much anticipation, dinner had been so amazing how would they top it?

For starters there was a chewy lychee ice cream with pistachio, celery and a yuzu foam. A little creamy, a little crunchy and a lot of delicious.

Next up was this crazy looking tube of rainbow sherbet along with olive oil, tarragon, orange and rhubarb. This was the best sherbet I can remember eating, vivid flavors, unexpected and great.

Our second to last course was composed of soft chocolate, long pepper, raspberry and came with ricotta ice cream. This was a good dish, perhaps not my favorite but still it was good contrast of textures and flavors matched up well. The final course was excellent, sweetened condensed milk ice cream covered with cocoa. Way to go out with a bang, it was just great.

At long last our dinner had come to a conclusion and I was so totally satisfied I didn’t eat again until lunch the next day. There was a final parting shot that came with the check though…

Edible packets of cocoa, sugar take me away!

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Dining in NYC – Part I

For the past couple years now I’ve had a mental to do list of places I’d want to eat at when I finally got to New York City and what do you know, KMJ and I are in NYC for our honeymoon and have dinner reservations with some of the heavy hitters of the NYC area dining scene. So with 9 days of vacation we made lots of reservations and first up on the list a whole three hours after we landed was Daniel Bolud’s newest place DBGB.

Unlike his other establishments which tend to focus more on the higher end, DBGB offers simple food executed at a very high level. Much of the menu is centered around the 14 different types of house made sausages and several different burgers plus other chicken, beef and pork options.

We decided to split a couple of sausages to start and soon enough the Vioneese and Tunnisian sausages had arrived. The Vioneese is a pork sausage with some cheese and the Tunnnisian is a lamb sausage.

Both of the sausages were great, the flavors were distinct without any one element being overpowering; just great food all around. The only disappointment was that there were only two of us there as I would have loved to order 5-6 of them to share around the table. For the mains I had the piggy burger which is a burger topped with BBQ pulled pork and KMJ a Schnitzel which very well may have been the best piece of pork I’ve eaten that wasn’t a BBQ rib.

Finally to put a topper on the whole meal we ordered a baked Alaska, though they call it something different on the menu. It was excellent and a great way to end the day before heading back to our tiny hotel room.

There were several more epic meals and snacks over the next week and I’ll post all the details in upcoming posts.

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Posting on a plane

Since I went about setting up this site while in flight it’s only fitting that the first post comes from 30,000 feet over Minnesota while KMJ (or is it KMK?) are en-route to New York for our honeymoon.  You can see a picture of that over on our wedding blog.  In any case I’ll keep raving about the GOGO in-flight internet service, this is just fantastic the service is quick, consistent and reasonably priced.  The thing that I’ve found the post surprising is the lack of latency in the connection; I’ve done several uploads of 3-4MB sized photos and none have taken more than two minutes to complete.  Several ping tests have shown that our latency is about 140ms on average which all in all isn’t to bad.  Were I actually inclined to look at work related email I’m sure it would be perfectly adequate.  That’s all for now, will follow up later on once we get into NYC.

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