Rack em up

server rack

So after years of running various iterations of a home server and more than a year in a rack style case sitting on the floor…I finally have my server where it belongs.

It’s not a slippery slope, it’s a water slide!

No really, having a real home server is not a slippery slope. Just because it started as my Plex and Nextcloud server and is now running 14 docker images and a VM hosting multiple services…just because I now host my own email, password manager, music streaming, movie streaming, TV show streaming, eBook reading, Minecraft, and network monitoring and management services on said server does not mean I have a problem. Really. I can stop whenever I want. Oh, and this blog is hosted on said server. I suppose I should have that in the list as well. My daughter’s blog is hosted on this server, too. I should not forget that one either.

My latest addition is the music management and streaming (based on this image). So I have Headphones in a docker for music management. It is connected with a local Musicbrainz mirror in another docker for artist, album, and track info. All of that ultimately puts my music in a file share that Plex and Airsonic can see. The latter I am now using to stream (Spotify style) to my phone when driving. Oh, and if for some reason Headphones is unable to identify an album, I have beets in another docker as a secondary identification system. Right now using beets is a manual process but I am currently working on a script that will monitor my ‘incoming’ folder for ‘[Unprocessed]’ at the end of a folder name. This indicates that Headphones was unable to match it. Those will be moved to a folder that beets will run against on a schedule. See? Totally not a slippery slope.

On an unrelated note, I’m probably about 2-3 months away from needing more RAM for that server.

Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

Mobile Life Without Corporate Systems

Lately I have been looking around at ways to separate myself from work specific systems but keep all the wonderful services. You know, all of those neat little things like email, calendar, contacts, file storage. Some of these things are painfully simple to replace but others are just painful if you don’t know where to look. But thanks to lots of surf time and reading unholy amounts of Lifehacker, I have managed to put together a near dream team of services that I daresay actually exceed most corporate offerings. Here’s what I use:

Email – Gmail is the way to go. They have some really great features from Labels to truly effective spam filtering. Add to that almost 7GB of storage and it’s comletely free…

Calendar – Google Calendar does a nice job of filling this role and it integrates with Gmail. There’s your web based Outlook/Exchange replacement. Oh, and you can have appointment reminders sent via SMS to your phone. Try doing that with a simple click in Outlook.

Contacts – I use Gmail’s contact list for this. It works great. Of course you can always use built in systems like Windows Address Book or Address Book.app on your Mac. Heck, you could just use your phone if you really wanted to but I find that the information kept in Gmail is more than sufficient.

File Storage – Dropbox is the winner hands down. Why? Because I like a system with a client that will automagically sync without any work on my part after initial configuration. Dropbox does that. Just set up your account and install the client. From that point on, just put the files into the Dropbox folder to have it sync in the background to their service and to every other computer you have linked to your account. Schweetness.

Notes – Evernote has a wonderful service. With clients that sync your notes to your Mac/PC/WinMo/etc system and OCR run on every image you send to them, Evernote stands above the rest for services rendered for the almighty price of free.

It takes a little time to get used to using these different tools if you are accustomed to the usual Microsoft systems and indeed you can integrate a number of these into Outlook if you really want to use it. But for the full use of all the features available, using the native clients is the way to go. And yes iPhone users, you can use all of these from the comfort of your mobile device save Dropbox.

Mac Media Center – Quick Note

I was at Best Buy today and noticed that SimpleTech has apparently reworked their external drive offerings. As a result, the old model of the 1TB external USB drive that was $259.99 is now on clearance for…get this…$92.99! The online store still lists the full price so I suggest that if you are in the market for a huge external drive for pocket change, stop into the store and see if they’ve got it marked down. It’ll be the silver drive with the sloped front (the enclosure, not the box it’s in).

Also remember that if you use a Mac then you will have to format it because it comes as NTFS which will only give you read access. If you aren’t sure how that works, just fire up Disk Utility (in the Utilities folder) and select the drive. From there select the Partition tab and click on Options. You have to make it a GUID partition table or else the format will fail. After doing that you can format the drive using Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Give it whatever name you want and click Apply. In moments you will have a fresh drive ready for mass quantities of digital goodness. (Important note: There is a backup utility on the drive that you will need to copy off first if you plan on using it. I prefer to just use Time Machine so I didn’t bother.)

Personally I made two partitions so I can have one for Time Machine (200GB) and one for my movies (731GB, you lose some in formatting). I’m still waiting on Time Machine to finish the initial backup and then I’m going to copy the movies I’ve already ripped via Handbrake over and see how it works with the Xbox. When I get it all up and going I will update the Mac Media Center page with the details. Oh, and if you are worried that USB 2.0 won’t be fast enough, let’s just say I’m getting better than 1GB/min transfer and since the movies are about 1GB per hour…there should be nothing to worry about.

Edit: I fixed the reduced price. I incorrectly reported it as $96.99.

Organization Will Set You Free

I don’t know about the rest of you but I have friends that like to borrow things. These things are usually in the form of DVDs or books. With my memory not exactly being what it used to be, I really have a hard time remembering who has what. Heck, I’ve loaned stuff out that stayed gone so long that I forgot I even owned it. This is where Delicious Library 2 comes in if you have a Mac.

Delicious Library 2 is a program that will catalog pretty much anything and everything you own. Yes, I am aware there are lots of programs that will do this. Let me tell you the joys of why DL2 is superior. Probably the best feature in my opinion is the barcode scan ability. All you do is hold the book or DVD or whatever’s barcode up to your iSight camera and it will read it, look the item up on Amazon, and download all information about that item into your database (including current sale value!).

DL2 also integrates into your Mac’s address book which will let you drag an item you loaned to that person’s entry so you can keep up with who has what. It’ll even put an iCal reminder for the due date you set. See? Bad memory is no longer a problem. And speaking of friends, DL2 will use Bonjour to show you the library of other Macs on your network. It’ll even let you find libraries of your friends that are published to the web. Did I mention you can publish it to the web (using either .Mac or iWeb or even FTP)?

There’s a whole host of other things you can do including a simple three click process to sell an item on Amazon but for a full list of everything it can do I would suggest just going to the website. You can download the program and put up to 25 items in it before you need to purchase it. The cost is a very reasonable $40. Actually, next to the $20 I spent on Connect360, I think this is the best investment I’ve made in my iMac.

So What Exactly Is Social Media?

In the beginning, communicating with people on the net was done via newsgroups, IRC, email, or IM. There are limitations to all of these with respect to getting the message to a mass audience. In reality, most messages were sent to a specific person or very small and select group of people. Social Media, though I hate buzzwords, is a nice catch-all term for a new series of web services that allow for a much greater penetration of a message. It takes a different approach. It puts the power in the hands of the reader/subscriber and not the author.

The advent of blogs are where I think the true birth of Social Media took place. Services like WordPress (which SBR uses), TypePad, Blogger, and LiveJournal gave the non-tech savvy internet user the ability to easily share thoughts and ideas with the world. Sure there were places that had WYSIWYG web page generators, but they were almost always clunky and never really made it easy to share frequent updates with the mass audience of the intarwebs. Blog systems changed all of that by giving people a simple text box to type in and a button to push to add the posts as easily as one would write and send an email. The blog format has been adopted by a great many large sites like Ars Technica and LifeHacker.

RSS feeds added to the blog phenomenon by making it easier to keep track of when new posts were added. This began the opt-in series of services that form the basis of what Social Media is today. If you look at offerings like Twitter, Pownce, and FriendFeed, you truly begin to see the power of the opt-in approach. The limitations of IM such as having to add people you want to talk to and those people having to be online at the time you send your message were overcome. The pains you had to go through to send that message to a lot of people at once were also taken care of. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to know these people. They will find you and opt-in to your data feed from that service and the service worries about sending your message to all of them whether it is 10 or 10,000 people.

A myriad of clients for these services, both web based and desktop based add to the overall convenience of both posting your own messages and monitoring other’s feeds. This is the true magic of what we call Social Media. Take Twitter as an example. I am following well over 150 people. Granted I miss a few updates from people here and there from the sheer volume of messages, but I get to keep up with all of these people with similar interests that I have never met. I get to see thoughts and ideas and websites and articles I would probably have never seen if it wasn’t for my desktop client (Twhirl on Windows and Twitterrific on my iMac).

A lot of times, it is these messages that spur ideas for my blog posts. I’m sure that I’m not the only one deriving inspiration from random messages in these feeds. Of course, there is a lot of fluff out there but the nice thing is, you can skip it by just not subscribing to those feeds. Besides, what I consider fluff you might consider to be interesting reading. See how putting the power in the reader’s hands is so nice? It isn’t intrusive like all of those annoying forwarded emails that people perpetually send to one another. I get so tired of deleting emails with subjects that start with “FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW: FW” (okay, maybe not quite that many, but you get the picture).

Basically, Social Media is a source of information that is offered through an opt-in service so that user’s interested can choose to be updated when more information is available. It may include getting an SMS with the latest message or getting a daily digest email to the account of your choice. The options are many and varied just like the services offered. The upshot is that these services, when properly implemented, make it much easier to get the information you want in a timely manner without all the hassle of various versions of spam.

Even big time corporations are seeing the advantages of leveraging Social Media networks. Comcast in particular has made some really good strides at improving Customer Service through a dedicated Social Media team. They scour the common services and search through blogs no matter how small to find places where people are complaining about problems they cannot get resolved with Comcast. The team then makes contact with these people and works with them to try and fix the issue. I know this works because they did it for me. I blogged extensively about it here at SBR and I’m happy to say they completely satisfied me with the solution.

So what is my short definition of Social Media? It’s all of those services on the web that let you post regular updates about things and sends those updates to everyone that opts-in to follow your feed/stream/whatever. It is all of those services that let us communicate with people we’ve never met but find what we have to say interesting. It is the next step of the world’s communication medium, but not the last.