I’ve got an Apple iMac!

After years of being a Microsoft Windows user I’ve finally got my first Apple Mac!

A work colleague was selling his 2009 iMac 24″ with 2.6GHz Core Duo CPU, 4GB RAM and a 640GB hard drive at a price that was too good to ignore.

I didn’t really need another computer but for the price I thought it would be worth getting to try out the Apple computer experience. The intention was to see if it would be suitable as a general family computer, to replace the dual core Athlon 64 Windows Vista Pro based Shuttle PC with 20″ NEC monitor we currently use.

I’ve played with friends’ Macs over the years but never really used them on a day to day basis (apart from the early Macs I used to develop on in Smalltalk many years ago!)

First impressions so far are pretty good and it seems like it will be a good fit for a family PC.

Debian 6 update broke my subversion repositories!

I recently upgraded my Debian Linux server from version 5 (codename “Etch”) to version 6 (codename “Squeeze”). Considering the size of the upgrade, everything seemed to go very well with only a couple of minor problems during the upgrade. Or so I thought…

The first time I tried to access one of the subversion repositories on my server I encountered the following cryptic error:

svn: OPTIONS of 'https://myserver/svn/myrepo/myproject/trunk': could not connect to server (https://myserver)

I also saw the following error several times too:

svn: Could not open the requested SVN filesystem

After trying an svnlook tree on one of my repos, it reported the following:

# svnlook tree /var/svn/myrepo/
svnlook: Berkeley DB error for filesystem '/var/svn/myrepo/db' while opening environment:
svnlook: DB_VERSION_MISMATCH: Database environment version mismatch
svnlook: bdb: Program version 4.8 doesn't match environment version 4.6

So, it looks like the Debian upgrade has broken my subversion repository access because the version of the Berkeley DB being used has changed! Nice!

After a bit more Googling I found this great blog post which guides you through how to migrate a BDB based svn repository from one version to another. The process basically involves using a couple of BDB utilities for each version of BDB involved (4.6 and 4.8 in my case) to recover the old repository. The blog post also discusses how to migrate a BDB based repository to an FSFS based one which is apparently the recommended repository format these days.

Gigabit LAN update

Following on from previous posts about upgrading my LAN to gigabit capability I’ve just performed some quick speed tests using iperf / JPerf (a Java GUI front-end on iperf).

I tested the speed between 3 points in my network:

  • my HP ML115 G5 Debian Linux server
  • my main Windows XP Pro 32bit PC
  • the family Shuttle Windows Vista Ultimate 32bit PC

Between the Vista PC and Linux server I am seeing a respectable average of 460Mb/s which is roughly 57MB/s.

Between the XP Pro PC and Linux server I am seeing an average of 295Mb/s, roughly 35MB/s.

Between the Vista PC and the XP Pro PC I am seeing almost identical figures to those between the XP Pro PC and the Linux server.

These figures are significantly better than the speeds I saw when it was originally wireless and I’m very happy with the improvement. However, I am not sure why I’m seeing such a difference between the Vista and XP PC speeds… I guess it could be down to a whole host of factors – NIC, OS, driver and configuration etc. I may look at trying a dedicated NIC card in the XP PC but to be honest I think it’ll be fine as it is.

My Linksys E3000 is now running DD-WRT firmware

Well, I left my new Linksys E3000 router running the stock Linksys firmware for a whole day… before deciding to upgrade it to the excellent DD-WRT custom firmware!

I’ve used DD-WRT on my old Linksys WRT-54G routers for a few years now so was very familiar with its features and benefits. I’m still running DD-WRT on a couple of WRT-54Gs acting as client wireless bridges so it made sense to upgrade the E3000 to run the same firmware. The DD-WRT web admin interface is much better than the stock Linksys one, and now all my routers are using the same consistent admin interface it should make administration a little easier.

Mission “Gigabit LAN” accomplished

I recently posted about starting to upgrade my LAN from a wireless G based network to a wired gigabit setup. I got as far as running some cat5e cable between the main points in my network and I was then just waiting to replace the 100Mbit components, namely a couple of Linksys WRT54G wireless routers, with gigabit capable alternatives. Well, I’ve now completed that upgrade.

To replace my main gateway WRT54GS, I bought a Cisco Linksys E3000 dual-band wireless router. This acts as a 4 port gigabit router in addition to a wireless access point and has dual radios so can provide both N and G wireless networks simultaneously. The E3000 is also supported by the excellent DD-WRT custom firmware so I will probably switch to using that at some point, instead of the comparatively limited Linksys firmware.

For the other end of the upstairs/downstairs link I bought a second hand Cisco Linksys SLM2008 8 port gigabit smart switch on eBay for a good price. This is a nice little switch, very sturdy in construction due to its metal case and seems to offer a good range of features.

I haven’t done any formal tests yet but initial impressions are that speeds are much improved, although not the anticipated 10x increase over the 100Mbit upgrade (but, thinking about it now, that was probably naively over optimistic!)

ATI graphics cards and I just don’t get on

Our family PC is currently a Shuttle SN27P2 with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 dual core 6000+ CPU and 2GB of Corsair RAM running Windows Vista Ultimate 32bit edition. I’ve had this since late 2007 when I bought it to replace our previous family PC – an attractive but underpowered Mini-ITX system in a light blue aluminium Hoojum Cubit 3 case. The Shuttle is probably the most well known brand in the small form factor (SFF) market and their products are well designed and engineered.

Originally this had an MSI NVIDIA fanless 8500GT 256MB graphics card in it to keep noise levels down. While not the most powerful card by any stretch of the imagination it performed adequately for what we used the PC for. Notably, the PC was configured to sleep after a period of inactivity which was crucial given the way this PC is used (i.e. jump on it, check emails, browse the web, walk away from it)

Everything was fine for a couple of years until one day the PC started experiencing video problems after being powered on for only a few minutes. This smacked of being cooling related and indeed on closer inspection I found that the passive heatsink on the GPU was loose. I tried replacing the heatsink but to no avail – the GPU must have cooked itself, so time for a new graphics card…

I wanted another fanless card and the most suitable available at the time (space is extremely limited in the Shuttle’s small form factor case so the choice of cards is restricted) seemed to be an ATI based Sapphire Radeon HD 5450 1GB. Now I’d only ever had one ATI based graphics card in the past, in a different PC, and I’d had nothing but trouble with it so I naturally gravitated to NVIDIA based cards from that point onwards – and they’d served me admirably. But, I thought that I might just have been unlucky in the past so I’d give an ATI based card another shot.

The card arrived and I installed it and the associated Catalyst drivers with no problems and all looked good. The 3DMark benchmark figures were quite a bit better than the previous card’s figures and the system appeared stable. However, the first time I tried to put the PC to sleep, it simply refused to go into standby. I double checked the BIOS settings and checked I definitely had the latest drivers installed, but all to no avail – the PC simply would not sleep. Remember, this was on a PC which previously went to sleep with no problems, the only difference being that a new graphics card and drivers had been installed. Over the next few months I spent ages Googling for solutions and I also contacted both ATI and Shuttle technical support who could offer no working solution. In the end I had to reconfigure the PC to hibernate rather than sleep after a period of inactivity or when the power button was pressed. Rightly or wrongly I place the blame for this squarely with the ATI graphics card and drivers.

So to bring this story up to date… almost a year on from installing the Radeon HD 5450 graphics card I’ve finally had enough and decided to try replacing the graphics card for another NVIDIA based one. I checked out the latest cards available at Quiet PC and found a Zotac fanless GeForce GT430 1GB within budget although it was going to be borderline whether it would fit in the limited space available in the Shuttle case. This card is a double width PCI-E card with a huge passive heatsink which wraps around the top and side.

I ordered one anyway and luckily it just fits! After uninstalling all the ATI drivers and installing the NVIDIA equivalents I powered it up, checked it was stable and then tried to put it to sleep… and it worked first time! I tried it a few more times and it just worked perfectly. Thank you NVIDIA.

I don’t know if it’s just me that ATI based graphics cards don’t like, but I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with them. So, from now on I’m going to continue to be an NVIDIA man.

There’s no substitute for a bit of wire…

For the last few years my home LAN has been based on a wireless mesh created from Linksys WRT-54G wireless routers (G, GS and GL models) running custom firmware from Sveasoft and more recently DD-WRT. This has worked OK and provided the flexibility of being able to have numerous network connected devices (PCs, laptops, netbooks, games consoles, internet enabled TVs etc.) without the need for physical cabling throughout the house. However, I’ve always been somewhat underwhelmed with the speed of the network, frequently moaning about the time taken to transfer large amounts of data from one device to another. As an example, a typical transfer speed while copying files from downstairs to upstairs was about 20 Mb/s – not great.

The WRT-54G routers are only wireless G (54 Mbit theoretical maximum) so I could obviously have looked at upgrading to a newer wireless N setup but I think I still would have been disappointed with the network throughput. So I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet and install a couple of Cat5e cables between key locations in the house. My internet connection comes into my office upstairs where my main gateway router, server and main PC are; directly below my office is the lounge where we have another router together with a family PC, PS3 and Wii. These two routers were previously linked by wireless using a WDS (Wireless Distribution System) link with devices then connected to the routers either by cable or over wireless. With the installation of the Cat5e cabling these routers are now linked physically eliminating the need for the wireless link between them (which actually operated at only half speed because of the fact they were also acting as access points!)

Testing the throughput after these changes resulted in a typical transfer speed of around 90 Mb/s, over a 4x increase! Much more like it 🙂

One consequence of still using WRT-54G routers is that the LAN is restricted to 100 Mb/s, whereas most of my connected devices are actually gigabit 1000 Mb/s capable. So, I think my next upgrade will be to replace the WRT-54Gs with some gigabit routers, most likely the latest Linksys E3000 which can also run the DD-WRT firmware. More on that later!

Finding out what’s filling up my hard drive using JDiskReport

I’ve been running very low on disk space on my Windows XP Pro OS drive recently and apart from ad-hoc removal of arbitrary temporary files when a “you are running very low…” warning appeared, I haven’t previously spent much time investigating just what is filling up my disk. Until now…

After Googling I found some useful information and tips, including the fact that it’s safe to remove the various C:\WINDOWS\$NtUninstall… directories as these contain only files required in the event that the service pack, hotfix etc. needs to be uninstalled. Assuming your system is stable following the installation of an update, the corresponding uninstall files can be removed.

But probably the most enlightening tip was to use JDiskReport from JGoodies to visualise what is on your disk. The tool is quite simple in concept, showing a hierarchical breakdown and graphical representation of the various directories and files on your disk, but the way it allows you to sort the data and click and drill-down into lower levels makes it so much easier to see exactly who the culprits are for taking up excessive disk space.

Using this I was quickly able to reclaim about 2GB of disk space by deleting loads of temporary files, old install files, orphaned files etc. and that’s without going into too much detail. 2GB might not sound like a lot, but when I’ve been running as low as 0 bytes free at times, it makes a huge difference to my PC performance!

So what now, Stig?

Reading about the BBC’s failed attempts in the High Court to stop publisher HarperCollins outing Top Gear’s Stig as ex-racing driver Ben Collins in his new autobiography, there has been lots of talk of the BBC’s anger at the publisher, but I’ve not read anything about their relationship with Ben Collins himself.

It’s been mentioned that there were obvious confidentiality agreements in place which have now been breached, but I don’t quite understand why the focus of the anger seems to have been towards HarperCollins and not Ben Collins – it’s him that has broken the agreement, not the publisher. Or am I missing something? Maybe it’s just the way it has been reported, or the way I’ve interpreted it.

So where does that leave The Stig? I’m assuming Collins will lose the gig (man, what a job!). Will The Stig be killed off again as happened with the original driver in the role, Perry McCarthy?

Maybe I should get myself a firesuit and Simpson helmet with black visor and send my CV in… 😉

And the blue line around the airport baggage carousel is for…

I’ve just returned from a smashing holiday to Tunisia with my family only to be completely amazed by the stupidity of people at the airport baggage carousel! The thing is like a magnet for stupid people.

There’s a line drawn on the floor around the carousel which you’re supposed to stand behind for a reason – so everyone can see the cases and bags on the carousel clearly, and when you can see your bag you can approach the carousel easily, collect your bag, and be on your way.

But no, idiots insist on standing as close to the carousel as possible so no-one else can see the approaching bags until they’re right in front of you! Grrrrrr!