Long Live The Tablet

I’m a computer nerd, I don’t deny this fact. People who know me don’t dispute this fact either.

Given how heavily I use my laptop & 3G modem commuting and how frequently I’m on a plane, I figured I could find a tablet useful. Since I’m not a foaming at the mouth sort of Apple fanboy (I usually wait until after 2nd or 3rd generation apple hardware is released), and I have personal and professional interests in Android, I researched both the iPad 2 and the Xoom.

Spec for spec, I found them comparable. Sure, neither have HD screens, but I have a HD A/V setup at home for that sort of media experience. The Xoom has expandable memory, which gets expensive when you bulking it up to 64GB. The Xoom has an LTE upgrade, which is very nice, but I don’t expect an LTE network in Ireland in the next 2 – 3 years. In the end, I realised the decision was down to the apps available. The iPad is slightly longer established, hence the better ecosystem of apps.

4 weeks ago, my iPad finally arrived, and it took a lot less time than that for me to become a convert. Sure, I don’t have the freedom of Android, but I’m happy with the better polished apps found in Apple’s app store.

I have specific use cases I wanted a tablet for:

Digital newspaper
These days, I mainly keep on top of current affairs through Twitter for breaking news and Google Reader for general interest stuff. I also have a subscription to the paper edition of Wired, but the delivery delays and mounting backlogs are becoming annoying. I intend to convert to the iPad edition of Wired and maybe even pick up a few more periodicals, if they also have iPad editions.
Media viewer
I’m a big multimedia consumer. I watch TV episodes to distract myself when commuting and I have a lot of DVD box sets I’ll watch over and over. I’ve used my laptop for this over the years, but it’s becoming more and more awkward to whip out my laptop and watch something while standing on a crowded train. Sure, having to sync content via iTunes is annoying, but I expect that to change over time. In the meantime, I’m more than happy with my combination of a media player and a network streaming app (for accessing my NAS when I’m at home). It turns out the Xoom doesn’t have any dedicated h.264 decoding hardware, so I’m definitely happy with the iPad 2 here.
Portable Internet Thingie
This is pretty self explanatory. I’m a computer geek. I use GMail and other web apps a lot. I also have a robust To Do list system, so it’s nice having a better way to maintain it other than fighting with the small screen on my iPhone.

What I didn’t expect:

Aperture photo organising
I expected to keep using my laptop for sorting and organising my digital photos in Aperture. Turns out, there is an iPad app which will bidirectionally sync Aperture projects to the iPad, so you can add metadata to your photos and then sync them back. Handy!
Semi decent SSH access
I got an SSH app, but dismissed it pretty quickly since the on screen keyboard is klunky and slow to type on. Turns out, it’s handy for quick one line things, like restarting that un-babysat daemon on my colo box, as I’m on a train, while Nagios is going crazy paging me about it.
The lack of a native Facebook app
There are a few third party apps, but the thought of paying for one just feels dirty. I used to only use it occasionally, since I have a lost of friends between Google Buzz and Twitter. For weeks later & I’m not missing Facebook at all. I don’t expect to deactivate my account anytime soon though, it’s still a handy, all else fails address book.

All in all, I’m glad I waited a year before getting a tablet. I’m an early adopter, but I’m not a bleeding edge early adopter.

Posted from Greystones, County Wicklow, Ireland.

Homebrew NAS Box

Last June, I built myself a homebrew NAS box. Every so often people ask me about it, so I might as well document what I did once and for all.

For a few years, I was storing media and backing up my photos onto a single disk in a USB caddy. There are a few problems with this approach, if like me you’re a sysadmin (no redundancy, no SMART monitoring, limited capacity, etc) so I started thinking about getting a NAS.

I looked at the Thecus and QNAP models and found the higher end ones had some of the features I was looking for. But I’m a FreeBSD user and I wanted to start trying ZFS, so firmware hackability was one of the most important features I was looking for. None of the models I was looking at were very hackable. So now, I was in homebrew territory, which concerned me since I didn’t want a full sized system with a stack of disks in it.

Then on the recommendation from Colm Buckley, I ended up looking into Tranquil PC, who make the BBS2, a dual core 1.66GHz Intel Atom CPU, up to 4GB RAM system in the form factor of a NAS. I ended up getting one with 4GB RAM and filling it with 5x Western Digital 2TB disks.

Since I wanted to use the drive bays purely for storage, I was originally running the system off a 16GB CF card connected via USB, while I sorted out an IDE Disk On Module. But after opening my BBS2 up, I couldn’t find an IDE slot for the Disk On Module to go into, so I resorted back to the USB storage solution, but using a new 16GB SanDisk Cruzer USB key as the system disk.

The result? I have a 10TB NAS which takes ~40W of electricity to run (I should really confirm that with my power meter), runs FreeBSD 8.x, stores everything in ZFS and can interface with pretty much anything I want, from my Mac Mini powered Multimedia Setup, to my new Squeezebox Touch. It speaks NFS, SMB and AFP, so pretty much any client can talk to it, and it didn’t take anything more than a standard FreeBSD install to set it up. In the (somewhat) distant future, when I manage to use most of the free space I may end up getting the SQA-EX to add another 5 disks to the system.

Resolutions

After being neglected technically for a long time, in addition to not having much time to post here, I’ve finally gotten around doing a number of things like upgrading to WordPress 2.7, debugging and fixing comment posting (there was cruft in the DB), and fixing the XMLRPC hooks, which never really worked for me (hopefully should encourage me to post more).

Although I tend to use twitter for random small musings these days, I’m going to start publishing photos from Flickr, random technical things which I can’t find well documented, and the occasional personal update.

For now, things that have happened since my last update:

  • Settled quite well into the house now. I’m even used to spending 3 hours of commuting each day (DivX and a 3G modem are equall helpful with this)
  • I’ve become quite amazed at how dexterous the really iPhone is. OmniFocus, beejive IM and 1Password have made it a truely invaluable tool for me.
  • Ciara and I disappeared off to New York for 8 days in November for a much needed break. We had a lot of fun upstate in the country and running around NYC. Photos should appear sometime soon.

No Longer In A State of Flux…

I’ve bounced around a lot of places in the last few weeks.

In early April, I was in the Zurich office for a few days (and yes, they really do have a fireman’s pole, no I didn’t go down it), before going to Innsbrook, Austria for an internal work conference and finally Soelden, Austria for our annual ski trip. Thankfully, we left Soelden just in time.

After that trip, I was around Ireland for three weeks and doing various things, including a 24 hour trip to Kilkenny for Andrew‘s Stag Night (mischief and mayhem was appropriately documented) and a few weeks later, Ciara and I were in Barberstown, Kildare for Andrew’s wedding over the May bank holiday weekend.

A week later, I was on a plane again, this time to (sunny) San Francisco. I was back in the mothership for meetings and a well deserved top up of the company koolaid. Apart from working, I got up to many things such as taking a San Francisco Bay ferry tour in dense fog, catching up with people, and slowing resenting the 60 – 90 min commute each way from San Francisco to Silicon Valley (like the locals do).

I was also caught unprepared for one of SF’s biggest events, Bay to Breakers, which can only be described as a St Patricks Day Parade (floats, mass drinking, etc) colliding with Halloween (fancy dress costumes), but SF style fancy dress (think Rocky Horror) which masquerades as a 12km run across the city. Very strange and surreal, but quite entertaining.

I’m now back in Dublin since last weekend, with no plans to travel again (just) yet. Photos from my various recent travels should end up on Flickr soon, I just need to sit down and publish the good ones.

Photos

One thing I’ve been meaning to do for months is to organise and publish photos from various trips and outings that have been gathering since last February. Last week, I finally stopped putting it off and started sorteding and uploading the photos to flickr. This week, I’ll sort through my photos from New England, New York and San Francisco and try to publish them shortly. 

My photos from New York are particularly interesting, since I upgraded my camera kit with the purchase of an EOS 40D, which is immense fun to use, especially with my Sigma 10 – 20mm lens. 🙂 

General news: Work as usual. Ciara and I are off to Galway for a long weekend this weekend, since I’ve never had more than an hour there, so we’re going to properly explore it. 🙂

Earthquake

So, I’ve been in the US for almost 2 weeks now, so my trip is coming slowly winding up and I’ll be back home in Dublin by this time next week. Apart from work, I’ve been up to quite a few things:

I explored NYC for the first time, taking in numerous sights such as Central Park, the Guggenheim, 5th Ave, the Rockerfeller Centre, Empire State Buildings, Staten Island (and the ferry ride there and back) and many other things. I did regret foolishly walking the 71 blocks from the Guggenheim museum all the way back to my apartment on the Saturday, then I walked around the waterfront to Battery Park the very next day. My feet were sore for almost a week :-/ Thanks to a colleague, I was brough to a very interesting, themed bar, the Beauty Bar, which had wonderful decor inside.

In San Francisco, there are a few things I still haven’t done, so I try to do one or two more things each time I’m back. This visit, I plan on finally going to on a tour of Alcatraz and crossing over to see (and photograph) the views of the city from the Golden Gate Recreational Area. I’ve already managed to get to JapanTown on Sunday, where I had lots of fun wandering around shops and having some very good sushi for dinner.

Oh, and this evening I experienced my first (noticeable) earthquake, 5.6 Mw shake which only lasted 10 seconds. I didn’t even manage to get all the way to a doorway before it ended. :-/

Back, but for how long?

Arrived back from my holiday Sunday afternoon. Trip to New England was really, really good. I’ve lots of photos to prove it, they may even appear online soon. However, I’m almost out of time back in Dublin. I’m off on a business trip to New York and then San Francisco for almost 3 weeks on Wednesday.

I acquired a few toys in New England, primarily a handheld GPS (I tagged waypoints of the trip highlights, I’ll find something to do with them later) and another camera lens, the ultra wide-angle Sigma 10-20mm (which is so much fun to use :).

One interesting thing I’m doing for work on Monday is giving a 10 min talk to students in 3rd and 4th year CS in TCD about a career in IT, particularly in Google. It’s somewhat ironic, since I would never consider myself to have been a model student in college. 🙂

Checking In

Now that life, particularly work is getting more and more stable and less frantic, I’m going to try and post here more frequently.

Recent things I’ve gotten up to, in no particular order:

  • Occasional cinema trips to see things like Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End. I recommend both, certainly for the fight scenes. (Yes, the originals were the best, but I’m still a bit of a sucker regarding the story lines of each francise.)
  • I’ve very recently acquired another lens for my SLR collection, this time a very, very fast Canon lens, which I’m looking forward to playing with.
  • Voted in the Dail Elections (second time voting in an election, since I conveniently “fell off the register” in 2004). If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about the government. 🙂
  • Nearly went geocaching in Wexford, which didn’t happen in the end, since I hadn’t properly planned it and the registration page on geocaching.org isn’t exactly mobile internet friendly. :-/

Birthday Boy

Man, the last few weeks have been hectic. In my last few days in California, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Cupertino, to visit The Apple Store (for shwag) and I managed to get a quick Apple campus tour while I was there. 🙂

After arriving back from San Francisco, my jetlag was prolonged with a small case of insomnia. 🙁 At the same time, nomad was in Dublin for a few days, after I first suggested he drop by when we met at LISA in DC, last December. Hanging around with Lee, even playing tourist and doing a tour of Dublin Castle was good fun. Before Lee left, he gave a very well received talk to SAGE-IE. Just after Lee left town, an old friend of Ciara’s from Canada came to visit, so tourist activities such as attending the St Patrick’s Day Parade continued for another few days.

Last week was one long blur, predominently of work stuff. Then came the weekend, when I was expecting to have a quiet meal out with Ciara, until we arrived at Chai-Yo on Baggot St, where I found 7 friends waiting to surprise me and wish me happy birthday. It seems I underestimated the lengths and just how sneaky the female gender is…

Today is my birthday. I turned 0x18 (or 24 if you’re unable to read hexidecimal 😉 ) and I received messages from all over, including Hong Kong airport (Hi Mark!) and even a colleague in Zurich (who noticed the unsubtle, yet tasteful way one’s birthday is shown on the internal phonebook 🙂 ) People have also given me some wonderful gifts, in particular, Ciara gave me a Canon SELPHY CP510 photo printer. 🙂 Now all I have to do is continue to resist my current “lens lust” for a fast shuttered, wide angle lens.

Jaded, on the West Coast

So, I’ve been over here in San Francisco for a week and the weather is quite like being at home in Ireland – chilly gusts of wind, unpredictable rain showers, etc – the only difference is when it’s sunny, it’s slightly warmer (and by slightly I mean twice as warm).

So far, my work trip here is going well, I’ve done many things and I still have lots to do. I’ve started to feel a bit jaded in the last few days which is probably due to the combination of jetlag and work. Last weekend was spent vegetating and doing very little. I didn’t actually venture further than a few blocks from Union Square (which is a block from my hotel). This weekend, I plan on being a bit more of a tourist, probably with a trip to Alcatraz and spending some time trying to take scenic or interesting photos.

Not much else has happened during my trip. The dollar is still rediciliously valued, so shopping still feels like I’m pillaging. 🙂 US online stores are still stupid, they initially take and then ultimately refuse non US credit cards, since they’re baltently fraudulant. I guess I need to find someone to go visit a Fry’s with. The food, particularly sushi and Mexican food, as expected is fantastic, particularly compared to what’s available in Europe.

I’ve also getting annoyed with US TV networks again. I became a big fan of Studio 60 after only a few epsiodes, but it’s now been put on hiatus mid season, which is never a good thing. Maybe it’s because Amanda Peet popped last weekend, but I’m probably being too much of an optimist. It’s a shame if it doesn’t return, too many TV shows I’ve enjoyed watching – The West Wing, Alias, etc – have all ended, leaving not a huge amount on TV. Sure, CSI is entertaining, but they are formulaic.

Maybe I’ll find something else to watch, now that I’ve become a Joost beta tester. Early impressions are that Joost is quite shiny. The UI is very nice and from my initial glances, there is a lot of content available. I’m looking forward to playing with it when I’ve more time.