My new rackmount server build for Proxmox VE

CSE-504-203BHere are a few notes on my most recent server build.    I’ll fill in more details as time goes on, so check back here in the future.  If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to address them as best I can.

The server was purpose-built for running Proxmox Virtualization Environment.  Proxmox VE  is a fantastic Linux distribution based on Debian Linux.  To the base OS it adds OpenVZ and KVM, two mature Linux virtualization technologies, and then puts a very easy-to-use web-based GUI on top.  I also have built two other servers for running Proxmox VE.  The videos for those are here and here.

You really only need to make four purchases to build this server, not counting peripherals such as mouse, keyboard, and monitor:

The case I used is a 1U rackmout server case from Supermicro with a model number of CSE-504-203B.  Click the thumbnail to the left to see my video review of this case.  In summary, it’s a sturdy, short-depth rackmount case that is designed for specific Supermicro motherboards.  You won’t get far trying to use this case with other motherboard manufacturers – check out the video for more details.

This case is very similar to another one from SuperMicro, the CSE 505-203B.  The difference is that the CSE 505 has the motherboard ports exposed on the front panel of the case, whereas the CSE 504 that I used has the ports exposed on the rear of the case.  The motherboard compatibility of these two cases are the same.  Here is a quick list of some of the popular Supermicro motherboard models and the cases that match them:

For these motherboard models: MBD-X9SBAA-FMBD-X9SCAA-LMBD-A1SAi-2750FMBD-A1SRi-2758F
Use one of these cases: CSE-504-203BCSE 505-203B

For these motherboard models: MBD-X7SPA-H,  MBD-X7SPA-HF
Use this case: CSE-502L-200B

For a motherboard, I used Supermicro model MBD-X9SBAA-F-O.  This motherboard has an integrated Intel Atom™ Processor model S1260.  The cool thing about this processor is, unlike many other Atom processors, it has hardware virtualization support.   There are a couple of things you need to know about this motherboard.  First, it has no PS/2 ports for mouse or keyboard and supports only USB 3.0.  Therefore, only newer operating systems will work properly.  Supermicro has published an OS compatibility list here.  Secondly, it supports only ECC RAM, and accepts SO-DIMMs.  As a result, your choices on RAM are limited as there are not many SO-DIMM memory modules on the market that support ECC.     The Kingston RAM I choose works fine.

I will be adding to and revising this blog post as my server project progresses.

 

How to change the Windows 7 logon screen background image to the default

1365011437A lot of computer makers put their own background image on the Windows sign-in screen  Some of them are OK, but in many cases I prefer just the regular Microsoft default.  Here are the steps to change it back to the default:

Warning:  The steps below require editing the Windows registry.  If you mess with the wrong things in the registry, you can cause serious problems with your computer.

  1. Launch the registry editor by clicking Start, typing regedit and pressing ENTER.  Click YES if you see a security prompt
  2. Browse to the following location:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background
  3. Double-click on OEMBackground and change value from 1 to a 0
  4. Restart your computer

As an alternative, you can download this reg file and run it to make the changes automatically.  Right-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” to save the file to your computer.

Partners in Rhyme finds a resolution to my YouTube copyright frustration

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Partners In Rhyme

A few weeks back I described a frustration I ran into as a YouTube creator. To get the background story you should probably read that post first. Even though I had done things the “right way” and only used properly licensed stock music in my videos, I still got slapped with copyright claims on several of my videos from a company call IndMusic. IndMusic, as it turns out, has been a source of frustration for both composers who create stock music and video creators who license and use that music. As I mentioned in the previous post, I had reached out to Partners in Rhyme, the stock music vendor from which I purchased the music, to see if they would give me some help. As it turns out, they did. Within a day or two I got a response from Mark Lewis at Partners in Rhyme. He requested all the information surrounding the problem: the videos in question, the company filing the claim, and the music they were claiming as theirs’.  Mark worked with the author (and presumably with IndMusic) and all the claims were dropped a week or two later.   This adds a new level of credibility to Partners in Rhyme.  Not only did they sell me the stock music, they also stood behind it when things went wrong.  Thanks to Mark’s efforts, my cardboard boat fishing video is back online with the disputed music, and I’ve deleted the video with a different music track that I had temporarily posted as a workaround.  Speaking of cardboard boats, I also have produced a video on how to build one, and I have another blog post with a few construction details.

How to install and use the OpenVPN client exported from pfSense

OpenVPN and pfSenseIn the world of open-source router & firewall software, pfSense is my favorite. It has features that rival some of the best commercial products, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to use it. pfSense has several options for allowing remote VPN (virtual private network) connections. OpenVPN is one of these. Once the pfSense box is configured to allow connections from OpenVPN clients, the system administrator can add users and export pre-configured installer files to allow those users to connect and work over any Internet connection of reasonable speed. Here are the steps needed to connect to a pfSense-protected network.

1. Install the OpenVPN client
Install the OpenVPN client using the pre-configured installer exported by pfSense and provided to you by your system administrator. Hopefully, this was provided to you on portable media such as a CD or USB thumb drive. Sending the installer by email defeats part of the security benefit of using VPNs because the installer could be intercepted on the way to its destination.

2. Set the client to run as administrator
If you are using Windows XP, you may skip this step. Locate the “OpenVPN GUI” icon on the desktop. Right-click on the icon and click Properties. Click the Compatibility tab, and place a check beside “Run this program as an administrator”.

3. Connect to the remote network
Take note of the icons that appear in the system tray (bottom-right of the screen beside the time display on the Windows taskbar), and then double-click the OpenVPN GUI icon on the desktop. You will see the OpenVPN icon appear in the system tray area. Double-click that icon to connect the VPN. You will be prompted for the username and password provided by your system administrator. Once the connection is established, you’ll see a message show up in the system tray indicating that you are connected.

4. Connect to the remote computer
Now that the VPN connection is established, all you have to do is use the remote desktop software included in Windows to connect to the computer of your choice. That is normally found in the Start menu under Accessories. Look for Remote Desktop Connection. If you wish, you can place this icon on the desktop by right-clicking on it and clicking Send to > Desktop (Create shortcut). When you start Remote Desktop Connection, enter the name of the computer you wish to connect to. You will also be prompted for a username and password to sign into the computer.

In the future, connecting will just be a matter of repeating steps 3 and 4. In the near future, I will be posting some additional tweaks that automate the process even further.

How to install Word and LibreOffice templates with a login script on Windows Server

Document Template ImageAfter some research and experimentation, I finally figured out how to push out Word and LibreOffice templates to client computers on a Windows Domain using a few commands in a login script. In our environment, we have a mix of Microsoft Office 2007, Microsoft Office 2010, and LibreOffice 4.x.x. This method seems to work with all three.

To start with, I placed the template files (.dotx and .ott) in a subfolder named templates and placed that within the netlogon folder on the domain controller. That way they are available for copying by the login script.

Here are the lines I added to the login script:

xcopy "\\server\netlogon\templates\Invoice Template.dotx" "%appdata%\microsoft\Templates\" /y
mkdir "%appdata%\LibreOffice\4\user\template"
xcopy "\\server\netlogon\templates\Invoice Template.ott" "%appdata%\LibreOffice\4\user\template" /y

Both destination folders use the %appdata% variable which should work in all modern versions of Windows. The destination folder referenced in the first line is already created when MS Office is installed, so the script just copies the template. The second two lines are for LibreOffice. Since the user templates folder is not created automatically, we first issue a command to create it (this line will harmlessly error out once the folder is already there) and then copy the template.

I’m still testing this in our environment, but it seems to be working well so far. I’ll update and edit this post if/when I notice any problems.

ContentID Madness: IndMusic, Partners in Rhyme, and my cardboard boat.

cardboard-boat-video-screenshotSometime late in 2013 I began to see articles and blog posts complaining of changes to YouTube’s ContentID system. The system is designed to flag videos containing copyright-infringing content and offer the owner of the content a chance to monetize the videos in question or have them removed from YouTube. I didn’t pay much attention as most of the complainers where YouTubers that were creating videos with in-game content. However, in the middle of December, the controversy paid a visit to one of my YouTube channels.

The channel is called “Great Cove Adventure Films” and is where I post videos of outdoor adventures such as fishing and hunting. In the space of three weeks, I received notification from Youtube that three of my videos contained copyrighted content. The videos effected were these:

Fishing from a cardboard boat
Channel Advertisement 11.23.2013
Catching bluegill on Fannettsburg Lake

The party making the claim is called IndMusic, a company that is becoming known for these sort of claims. Supposedly, the background music in my videos infringed on the copyright held by an artist they represent. The thing is, this music wasn’t something of questionable origin or something I ripped off a CD. I had purchased the songs in question in January 2013 from an apparently reputable company called Partners in Rhyme. The stock-music collection cost me $99 and was called Sacred Hymns. It included several soft instrumental hymns that I thought would go well with my outdoor videos. The receipt and license agreement from Partners in Rhyme clearly stated that I was purchasing the right to use these songs as background music for video projects. Furthermore, the license stated that Partners in Rhyme had the necessary authorization to grant me those rights, and that their agreement with me did not infringe the copyrights of any third party. So in spite of me acquiring this music the “right” way, YouTube was notifying me that IndMusic held the rights to the music and future revenue from advertisements would be shared with them instead of me.

Thankfully, YouTube allows a video creator to appeal. I took advantage of that and appealed the claim on all three videos. I explained in each of my appeals how I had legally acquired the music. In a few days IndMusic lifted the claim on two of the three videos. However, they didn’t lift the claim on my cardboard boat video. On January 17, 2014 I received a notice from YouTube that IndMusic had reinstated their claim on my video. I could file a second appeal, but this time the stakes would be higher. I would have to share my contact information with IndMusic, and they would be free to take legal action against me if they still felt that my video was infringing. In addition, if they turned down this appeal YouTube would place a copyright strike on my YouTube account. For a small-time YouTube creator, the risk is simply not worth it. I should be able to assume that my appeal would be granted, but since it was denied once it certainly could be denied a second time.

So what choice do I have? The video is still active, so I can just leave it there. However, all revenue sharing from it now goes to somebody who probably does not deserve it, basically rewarding IndMusic for filing a claim that appears to be invalid. So as soon as I can put different music with the cardboard boat video, I’ll be pulling down the old one and putting up a new one.

So who’s to blame for this madness? The short answer is, I don’t know. Are IndMusic and YouTube over-zealous in their copyright policing efforts? Did Partners in Rhyme sell me rights without proper authorization? For what it is worth, it appears that the stock music collection in question is no longer being offered by Partners in Rhyme. I left a voice-mail for them today (January 18, 2014), but so far I have not heard from them. I strongly suspect Partners in Rhyme is the innocent party, but they are likely the only company of the three that I’ll actually be able to have a conversation with.

Model Rockets: a blast from the past

One of my favorite hobbies when I was a kid was launching model rockets. I had a whole fleet of them, ranging from the four-inch Mosquito to the six-foot Mean Machine. In my teen years when I discovered the personal computer, I even wrote a database program to keep track of rocket flights. I advertised the software in a rocketry magazine and sold exactly three copies, if my memory serves me right.

Unfortunately, during my teenage years I lost interest in the rockets and in my early twenties I sold everything: rockets, launch pad, controllers, and parts. I even parted with a half-built three-engine cluster rocket. Sometime later I got married and started a family. Now, a few years later, I have three young boys in my family who would love to have all those rockets. This summer, I decided it was time to get back into the hobby.

As it turns out, the world of model rockets has changed bit since my childhood. First, there seem to be more companies making and selling model rockets. Back then it was mostly just Estes, but now there are many others. Secondly, there are some cool things you can do with rockets nowadays that were either impossible or expensive before. For example, launching one with a on-board video camera.

To get back into model rockets, the first thing I purchased was an Astra III Starter Set. This is from a company called Quest, and it contains everything that you need to get started. Unlike most of the similarly priced kits from Estes, this one even comes with a pack of engines. The launch equipment in this kit is very similar to what you’d get from Estes. Both the launch controller and the launch pad look almost identical. I did find that the launch pad was better-built than the Estes pad I used to have. Instead of the very rigid plastic, the Quest launch pad uses plastic that flexes slightly. This makes it easier to get the legs in and out, and the thing is almost indestructible.

The second thing I purchased was a key-chain spy cam. These things don’t give the highest quality video, but they are very cheap and light. Because of those qualities, they are commonly used for in-flight video on model rockets.

The videos below show the construction process, plus two flights from the on-board camera. I also recorded some instructional videos showing you how to use the camera (the manual is horrible), how to make your own recovery wadding, and how to design a stable rocket. Enjoy!

How to turn an old CD into a UFO

I am one of those people that doesn’t like to throw things away. This is especially true if the item in question has any potential of being useful. When I ran my computer business I received lots of equipment in cardboard boxes. That led me to design a boat, a footstool, and some solar ovens – all made from cardboard. I’ve used empty soda bottles to make a broom. And I use empty peanut butter containers to store various fasteners and other small items in my garage.

So it’s not surprising that I designed a UFO that makes use of old CDs and DVDs. This project is easy enough for kids to do with a bit of adult supervision. The video gives the step-by-step guide on how to build one. Here is the list of parts that you’ll need:

Republic Wireless & the Motorola Defy XT: A six-month review

In march of this year, I finally was dragged kicking and screaming into the smartphone world. As a person who has worked his entire adult life in the computer and networking field, you’d think it would have happened much sooner. The main reason it didn’t is that I’m a tight-wad. I didn’t mind shelling out some cash for a smartphone, but I didn’t want to pay money every month on a data plan. At the time, I was using a “dumb phone” and getting service for $30 a month from Straight Talk.

So in March I moved over to the $19/month unlimited-everything-with-some-caveats plan offered by Republic Wireless. I didn’t specifically choose the Motorola Defy XT. You might say it chose me – it was the only phone offered by Republic Wireless. At the time I purchased it, I did an unboxing video and did some basic camera tests. Since I’ve used it for a while, I now am ready to do a more detailed review.

The Bad Stuff

  • Outdated OS
    The phone is using Android 2.3, and there’s no indication that there will be an update.
  • Limited internal storage.
    You won’t be able to install many apps until you run out of internal space. Many apps can be moved to the SD card, but some cannot. I’ve moved all of those that allow me to, and I still am pretty much maxed out.
  • Sluggish
    I haven’t found the speed hurting my productivity with the phone, but it is clearly not very speedy. When dialing a phone number, I can press three digits before any of them appear on the screen.
  • WiFi quality suffers at times
    Some WiFi calls are fine. Other ones have quality problems or a noticeable delay that causes people to interrupt each other.
  • No MMS messaging
    You cannot send or receive text messages with this phone that contain photos or video. If somebody tries to send you such a message, it will not be delivered, and they will not get a message to let them know that you’d didn’t receive it.

The Good Stuff

  • Inexpensive
    $19 a month is a hard price to beat.
  • WiFi Calling
    At my home, I do not have cell coverage from any of the major networks. With WiFi calling, I can make and receive calls on my mobile phone for the first time
  • .

Conclusion

In spite of a not-so-great phone, I’m pleased with Republic Wireless. The plan is cost-effective, and the WiFi calling just makes sense. Why pay to send a call through a cell tower when you have a WiFi connection? For somebody who was accustomed to a “dumb phone”, this phone was an upgrade. Not only that, but I pay less per month than I used to. However, if you want state-of-the-art and don’t mind spending more money on a plan, go someplace else. Or, you can just wait a few months. Republic Wireless has just announced that they will be offering the Moto X, a much better phone, later this year.

How to make a cardboard boat that is built to last

About a year ago I did a video about the building of my cardboard boat. I built the boat in 2008 after reading on the Internet about cardboard boat races. However, instead of making a boat designed to stay afloat for a few hundred yards, I built one that was designed to last much longer. The final product was a mixture of instructions I found on the Internet and some ideas of my own.

The video has the majority of the information you will need to get the job done. I’m doing this post now to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the construction process:

Q: How do you make the first layer of newspaper stick to the cardboard?

A: First, I brushed a coat of varnish on the cardboard. Then I place pieces of newspaper on the hull, making sure there are no bubbles or wrinkles. Once that is dry, I apply a coat of varnish on top of the newspaper and repeat the process. Once I have as many layers of newspaper as I desire, then I finish it off with two or three more coats of varnish.

Q: What kind of varnish did you use?

A: I used Helmsman Spar Urethane because I had some of that on hand. If I had it to do over, I’d probably use this product from Rust-Oleum. Similar brands of varnish should work as well.

Q: Where do I find water activated paper tape?

A: Here is a link to some on Amazon. If this item is no longer available, do a search on Amazon for “water activated tape”, and you should find plenty of options.

Q: How do you make the paddle?

A: I didn’t! This part wasn’t cardboard. I bought a kayak paddle like this one.

This post may be updated in the future as more questions are posted in the video comments.