Saturday, December 25, 2010

tales of the galloping hoards

Taking a break from the cyber world, you know I herd cats. I am not opposed to dogs, it's just that cats are the petting appliance of choice. Hey, I tried petting tropical fish, it's not the same and birds are not meant for cages, though some beg to differ (birds that is!). Dogs are happy in packs, cats agree to co-exist. Dogs treat you as one of their own, cats expect you to hold up your end of the relationship or else (you can be replaced). Dogs wait on you, you wait on cats. Dogs have one personality, cats at least two, most nine. This is why dogs run in packs, they like others. Cats are already crowed, they will consider you after considerable consideration, then reconsider wither your presents warrants their attention. Then they test your sincerity, your dedication and take advantage of your advances till you reject them as a nuisance. No big deal, your done, so am I, see you next time. If they remember they will tempt you to see if you will respond. I got you now, pet me till your hand falls off. Oh wait, don't stop, you are not done yet!

Six cats is a herd, a manageable amount. I have heard tales of more, numbers not possible even in the wild. Too many of anything, no matter your heart felt intentions, will steal your soul and redefine your purpose of life. Balance is a must as you will serve to make up lacks so you all can survive. Many in my area are often overwhelmed, never ask for help and are discovered too late. Six cats is enough. My wife would have me care for neighborhood strays, I say no. Once people go down that path, they need to "org." with others and be funded and make that their life's mission.

That's the cat's tale and I go back to my computer mouse which doesn't purr or require mouse pellets. A shame, I pet the mouse more than the cats. I think they are jealous.

Friday, December 24, 2010

the ways of the source

The scene opens with Han Solo is about to jump into hyper space, they got hit by enemy fire and C3PO is in a tangle of smoking wire. That was me folks. I was working on implementing a LTSP server environment on top of my existing hardware. Needless to say my enthused effort was no match for the really of diverse and inadequate hardware pieces. This will require a few acquisitions and some more in-depth understanding of the technical bent. It all seemed too simple a concept for it to go so amiss, but IT is not about just having the right pieces in place.  There is software and configuration too. Come on you've all had the perfect cake recipe only to find success after the correct plus or minus baking powder to compensate for altitude. It's a Denver cake, you are in Ohio folks.

I did discover some things in restoring my system to working status. Hooking up and configuring routers and PCs for DSL service can be a trial of wits. All the instant and easy router install CDs are for MS Windows systems, I have an all Linux system. Good thing I can access the manual on the CD and I printed out much of the original config pages before the problems occurred.  To manually config a router is one day of burning, one day of learning. I am a wiser man. So you router makers should at least put a Linux installation program on your web sites for download.

Another thing I discovered is that my Sata drive has some bad sectors. My baby's got some bruises! I could use a slew of new hard drives (huge honking), and a few smaller used drives that whine but don't click. I also learned that if more than one DHCP server is on one network, the network is obliged not to work. Most of my frustration came from iffy web access to the router admin page. Going back to defaults is scary, it all worked so well before I'd forgotten what it was all about. This is a big problem with Linux, you set it and forget it. Not having to constantly monitor things, you have to be reminded what you did and how you did it. Then the fix is in sight.

Well, things are back to working order only now I have changed. That means the door is opened for more experiments and another crack at the LTSP server. A better planned approach is in order and to think this all started with Tinker Toys.

And may the source be with you (I couldn't help that!)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

techno tinkering

What's going on at the Linuxville chateau, dead quite, then lights on at odd hours, alternating outcries of eureka and oh darn. You see, the whole fun of computing is to see what you can do with it without wiping out your data or net access. Really helps if you have more than one computer. And if you have more than one PC then it gets a bit tricky when some of your data is uniquely on each one of them or different versions of one file is on either of them. A central data store like a NAS or network attached storage would be nice.

In another setup, a through-back to the mainframe era, is the LTSP server. I don't know why I like this setup but one central server with some dumb terminals is economical for a home computer. The LTSP server can be powerful yet small, serving applications and providing data storage for a slew of work stations around the house. Perhaps the work stations called thin clients are diskless or perhaps they are just less endowed PCs, even older PCs that tap the server's resources. Some have even called these "chubby clients"or smart terminals. This goes to show you that personal computers are not always the best use of PC technology.

The real thing is how much it takes to setup and live with this arrangement. It can't be any worse than what music buffs do. I have seen home entertainment systems manned by home-brew media engineers. I am always so envious. My server can be the latest and my less endowed terminals can be older stuff. Hey, that's STEAMPUNK if I ever saw it! The terminals can't utilise the latest software in their own right but as terminals they can blaze with eye-candy streamed from the server.

Why me? I work with my GIMP setup a certain way on my laptop, changing it as I use it. Then I roam to my desktop, open GIMP and it's not the same. If I had GIMP on a LTSP server, it would be one copy and I could access it, the same GIMP, from either laptop or desktop. I have just killed redundancy, the need to sync data on two computers and created a consistent work environment. I know you can buy already set-up NAS and servers, but we don't always have money to throw at problems and besides home-brewing is fun. Schools don't have the time to teach you all this cool stuff. If you are a techie you must tinker, the same is true with artist, you must make your own tools.

So with that, excuse the yellow tape and no, it's not a crime scene. The flashing lights say "tinkering session in progress!"

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

a NAS is not NASA

I guess the NAS adventure requires a why you need this? Let's see, I can recycle old computers I would have had to stash or trash. I wouldn't have to buy a huge honking hard drive for my own use that only I can use on my PC. (I don't need that much disc space, personally.) You see with a NAS on your network, everyone on your network can get at the files stored on it. Why is that important. If you gots family, multiple PCs in the house, and you are each downloading videos off of YouTube or NetFlix. A NAS is a central storage place everyone can access. Let me paint a picture.

"Anybody download the movie for tonight? Yeah dad, but Jimmy's got it on his PC and he's out on a road trip. (Should have burned a disc or put it on the NAS with the big honking hard drive.) I'll download it, burn it, when I'm done watching you all can have it."

Download it once directly to your NAS, it is there for anybody on your network. Lots of redundant effort foiled. It is practical for storing any digital documents and media. For me this means I have a huge honking hard drive that my various small PCs can use and not have multiple versions of the same docs floating around on each PC. It also means that my many CD library can be stored away (real backup copies) and disc swapping is a thing of the past.
This is busting the description of the home PC. A PC must have a keyboard and monitor and used by one person at a time, thus personal. A PC is only good when it can do everything the person using it wants. NO! You can dedicate a PC for certain uses. Like managing a entertainment system. A TV tuner card, media software, stereo speakers and home theater r us is yours. Connect to your NAS via your network and that huge honking hard drive(s) is a well of assorted entertainment. You can watch it on your big screen or your laptop.

If you are concerned about the noise level of old computers, buy new power supplies and cpu fans, have a techie install them. The newer stuff is quieter. But the point is that computers can be configured to share and not be so.......personal.
A NAS is not NASA, that is not rocket science, but does require technical tenacity (getting your geek on) or getting a geek professional or buying a commercial NAS unit $$! Home brewing a NAS just sounds like fun and useful. I'll let you know.

Monday, December 06, 2010

geekness - NAS

It's not over yet. Good thing my geekness is in tact. I have a few minor but constant headaches. One is that if you are serious about any computer art, every program, and input device requires a time tuned skill. A mouse feels one way and the digital pen another. Then every program you use feels a certain way depending on your input device. There is that comfort thing and that changing device thing. On top of all that is discovering which program can better do what you want. I could not use just GIMP because Inkscape has already proven to me it can do some things I want to do better. GIMP and Inkscape work very well together. You must spend time with it all.

Pack it in and push it down. This has been a good word to me. Learn it till you are sick of it, then go do something else. Later just go to work and what you have learned kicks in. Sounds simple but when it becomes a habit it is the most useful, almost second nature. But you must apply it while you are using it or it is useless, once you know (via experience) you know, you know!?

There two things a digital artist must develop a habit of doing. Number one is save often. When a system crash happens or you click the wrong button or the cat jumps on the keyboard, having saved work in progress keeps you from starting over, and the cat lives another day. The second thing is backup. Copy to CD, flash drive or use a USB remote hard drive. However you store it not on your PC is a safe resource for you.

I can't recommend it yet as I am still trying to figure it out, but a good solution is a file server, Network Attached Storage or NAS. What is that?? Imagine a PC on your network and all it does is control hard drives. Hey, my PC can do this. Yeah but how easily can all the PCs on your network share the information on your PC? This NAS appears on your file system as another hard drive except that it is not in your PC. Being a separate machine on the network means all your other PCs can access it when they need to. I had an 2nd hand 300gig drive I was going to use. It is too damaged to be reliable, so I am testing the NAS with a 20gig drive. If it works out I'm investing in larger drives.

The software is called OpenFiler. It is free and if you want powerful options and flexibility there are extensions you can buy for it. Another NAS software is called FreeNAS. I am sure there are fans of either. Why use a NAS instead of configuring PCs to interconnect and share? One is the configuration work required on each PC the other is security. As a desktop jockey I don't want to be tweaking each and every piece of hardware I have every time I make a change. I setup a NAS once and forget it and get some artwork done.

It is kind of hard to dedicate a PC to a single purpose. I am so use to a PC being able to do a lot of stuff. Once this NAS is setup it doesn't even need a keyboard or mouse, the interface is via a web browser on another PC the same as routers are managed. The best is to re-purpose an older PC for this server work. It is not too complex, nor too hard, if your geekness is intact.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

the life of an artist is not always pretty

I'm giving in to a winning retreat today. What does that mean? Oh, I moved my main PC and router and stuff back up to the penthouse, computer lab and artist's retreat.

It's for artistic freedom and what not because a certain well trained older artist individual with Alzheimers in my house is so critical and insisting I take their tutorship, I must relocate myself. They have never worked on a computer, ever! But I can remote into my upstairs PC via TightVNC on my laptop. I can be seen and then escape when necessary. So peace of mind and so far my Wacom Graphics tablet which has unusable jitters on my laptop, works fine on my desktop. That is a win too!

Trying to turn assorted PC stuff into artist tools can be a challenge. With flash drives and notebook drives cheap this shouldn't be a problem. But times are tight and making due is the game today. In my collection are 10gig, a 20gig and one 300gig hard drives. You can't always be sure of the longevity of them when they are 2nd hand. I plug them in and listen to the noises they make. Whining is good and clicking is near bad about to be really bad. I never have enough of the right kinds of cords, or long enough Ethernet cable or phone cable or power cord adapters. I have two crt monitors 17" and 14". I have my laptop which is a big 15" and not wide screen. I'd have to get a 19" widescreen to have the height useful for art work. The widescreens seem so squinty. My daughter has a huge rear projection TV, that would be wonderful for digital artwork. Dibbs on that girl!

The missing piece for me is printers. My office printer is mainly for fax and scanning. I think I wore the printer part out. What I need is a wide inkjet that can handle paper and canvas. I can use commercial print services but I need to see and handle my own work to get the feel before I commit to 3rd party printers.

I think my life would be easier if I was doing web graphics, but I don't seem to have a heart for that kind of art. I wouldn't need a printer and it would seen by thousands, millions. but perhaps not so ever present as a pic over your sofa.