Sunday, January 3, 2010

Adventures in Linux-land

I've really outdone myself this time. So many modifications have been made to my home's technological components in the past week I barely know where to begin, so bear with me if this post seems to be an incongruous wasteland of disorganized thought, I'll try to organize it the best I can.

First off, new computer:
AMD Phenom II x4 965 @ 3.4ghz
8GB (4 2GB modules) of OCZ DDR3 RAM 2 (1600)
Integrated Radeon HD 3300 Graphics (for now)
500 Watt PSU
Optical Drive/HDD/Card Reader/other unexciting peripherals

Now I also modified the computer I had prior to this one to be a home media server of sorts. Specs here:
Pentium IV @ 2.8ghz
2GB DDR2 RAM (800)
80GB IDE Drive (yeah I know, but it's only for the OS)
1.5TB Sata drive in a hot swap in one of the 5.25" bays.
256MB DDR2 8400 GS Nvidia GPU
other uninteresting peripherals.

The Phenom II box I built by hand with a few of my friends. I literally put my own blood and sweat into this machine (pin on the motherboard stabbed me under my thumbnail). After the build, it wouldn't POST. It didn't keep resetting either it just wouldn't post. It just stood there, powered on, mocking me. I tried swapping out the PCI-E graphics card and running it off of integrated, still wouldn't POST. Tried reducing RAM to one measly stick, still nothing. We took it apart and put it back together again with the same results. Then when I got home I completely disassembled it and put it back together again (in various configurations) TWICE, and still nothing. It sucked, $700 for parts on a machine that won't boot, yet has nothing apparently wrong with it.

Next day, I took it to Microcenter, where we basically tried the same thing. Of course now that I'm there it works. The knowledge bar attendant told me the PCI-E graphics card was shot, and managed to get into BIOS while using the integrated graphics. While in BIOS we noticed that my RAM was set to 1066, "Not on my watch" he said and promptly adjusted it to 1600. For some reason the board defaulted to that. I haven't had any problems with this machine since then but am still troubled by one thing: That graphics card works fine. I plugged it into the P4 box and it runs fine. I'm watching it work right now! At this point I'm hoping it was just a compatibility issue between the card and the new motherboard rather than the motherboard's PCI-E just being shot. We tried both sockets on the board too...

A brief segue: For a while, my router's been giving me issues on dual-boot machines. All the computers with only Linux on them ran fine, but my laptop which had Linux Mint 8 and Vista would act... for lack of a better term, 'iffy'. I would have to reset my router every time I booted into Windows because I would get a local only connection with a "limited connectivity" error. I thought the problem was limited to the laptop until I got the new computer (the Phenom II box) which exhibited the same problem. Long story short, after fighting with my router for the better part of an hour I got it to take to a firmware upgrade which rectified the problem, as well as added many new features. The router went from being a rather persistent pain in my ass to one of the most efficient and streamlined routing systems I've ever used. Good work Trendnet, I forgive you now.

Now here's what I did after the router's hiccup was cured: Installed Linux Mint 8 Helena on the P4 box, copying over my /home/steve/.azureus directory from a previous installation so I could keep my statistics/settings/et cetera. I then installed a new copy of Vuze from their website, as the version in synaptic's repositories is hopelessly outdated. I also got apache2 and php5 (from synaptic). Now... here's where things get fun. I set Apache's document root to be /media, several directories above my 1.5TB's mount point. In the /media directory there are several php scripts and an html form that will prompt a user for a username and password before forwarding you to the 1.5TB's directory. This was designed to keep out anyone who had already broke through my router's WPA2 level security.

Although this seems like a task much better left to MySQL, I'm way more familiar with php and was feeling adventurous. So now the P4 is serving everything on the 1.5 TB drive via httpd. This is fantastic for the computer illiterate. Mint 8 ships with Firefox configured with various media plugins, so by clicking a link to a media file, it will seamlessly start playing in the browser. Neat parlor trick for the grandparents, huh? Because quite frankly, my recounting of how I jerry-rigged a php script ignoring all conventions of proper syntax etiquette would be lost on them.

Now that the server is up and accessible, I need a way of remotely adding new content. My first thought is 'remote-desktop', but somehow that seemed a bit too bulky (in terms of bandwidth) for my needs. All I needed was to point Vuze to new content. So believe it or not, I wound up using pidgin, an open-source and cross-platform instant messenger client. Pidgin comes with a plugin to auto-accept transfers from pre-determined screennames, so I set it up to auto-accept transfers from mine and add the files to /home/mint/Uploads. I also set Vuze to auto add new content from that directory which it scans every 60 seconds. So Voila! By sending a .torrent via an instant message file transfer, I can remotely add content to Vuze's queue. And yes, I do have remote-desktop enabled as well in case I need to do anything more intensive from afar.

Now it doesn't end there. Suppose I want to watch the media on my 1.5TB on a television? I can do that too. The 8400 GS that is in the P4 media server has s-video out... Yeah, we don't have HD... Anyway, So I can use the TV as a monitor and watch movies that way. I also have a 3.5mm headphone jack (standard audio out on a computer) to RCA audio converter (the red and white plugs for sound on older televisions), so sound is a go as well.

I'm working with VLC as the player at the moment though I would prefer Boxee. VLC is by no means a shoddy player. In fact it's fantastic, just not ideal for a home media box outputting video to CRT television. Boxee's UI is fantastic for this purpose, but sadly they have not released the beta yet, and the alpha relies on packages in Jaunty's repositories which are outdated/incompatible with Mint 8 which is based of of Karmic. Boxee paired with an ATI Remote Wonder provides a UI simple enough even the biggest tech-tards can navigate their way through it. Once Boxee's beta is released, I'm going to start building boxes that will run it on start up and browse to the 1.5TB, and connect them to every television in the house.

I've also stumbled upon a nifty little media player called Songbird. I'm quite impressed. It can play the .mp3's on my server as if they were a playlist. For example, If I point it to "" it will play everything in that directory as if it were local content. It's also open-source and cross-platform which is always a plus in my book (as per my love affair with Azureus, Pidgin, Firefox, et cetera).

I think that about sums up the past week. Again, sorry for the mess.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, wow, am i the only one here??? HELLOOOO??? . . . .. . I found it! A place of solitude on the internet!!!