Mass Efficiency

I like Newegg.com and have been using them for many of my tech purchases for several years. But my recent order for Windows XP Home took an interesting route to get to me. I can’t help but wonder if the drive to lower costs can actually be wasteful at times. To be clear, NewEgg delivered as promised, just not exceeding their promises as they have in the past.

I ordered the software on Monday, taking the free shipping and no special processing, and on Tuesday the package was in the DHL Rutherford facility. Fine so far, but this is where it gets strange.

DHL ships the package approx 220 miles to the USPS facility in Walpole, Ma. Now this is strange because the 220 miles trip passes near my house and the package is actually farther away when it’s turned over to USPS two days later, for delivery to me. USPS took two days to get it to me, which is the same if DHL had been taken out of the loop and USPS handled it all the way.

Historically, NewEgg would get me stuff within in a day when using UPS and two days when using USPS from New Jersey. I assume they went with DHL as a cost-cutting measure and will also assume it helps them keep costs low. I just have a hard time believing that DHL is a cost effective solution when they turn it over to USPS anyway and only after sending if farther way.

I guess they make it up in volume.

Windows Home Server Power Pack 2

Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 has been released and is in the wild. I installed it on my two Windows Home Servers without incident. The first was my 12TB Windows Home Server , the second was my HP Mediasmart Windows Home Server. Both took only a few minutes, including the reboot.

Both installs went without incident. As expected, a server reboot was required. After the upgrade I was prompted to upgrade the connector on my Windows PCs. One of those also required a reboot while the others did not.

I haven’t looked at the features added with Windows Home Server Power Pack 2 but I did test backup and restore. I successfully restore a file that was backed up before the upgrade. I also successfully did a new backup and restore.

New features in Power Pack 2 include:

Media Center support – you can now install a connector on a Windows Media Center PC and view shared content within Media Center. MP4 audio and video support has also been added.

Remote Access settings have been simplified (according to official docs) and there are new configuration and repair wizards. Better troubleshooting support has also been added.

There’s also bug fixes related to backups, server storage and shared folders. Additional language support has also been added.

Power Pack 2 is only available through system update and Power Pack 1 must already be installed.

Windows Home Server on MSI Wind Barebones

I needed to do some PC work and swapping for my parents. To do this I needed a place to store files and backups. I decided a Windows Home Server was ideal for this although the cost of one would be a problem since the need was temporary. So I looked for a solution that would be low cost by using what I already had available or could use elsewhere once I was done.

I decided to base the Windows Home Server on the MSI Wind PC Intel 945GC 1 x 200Pin Intel GMA 950 Barebones System which MSI has taken to calling “Nettops” these days. This is a small (11.8” x 9.5” x 2.6” / 300mm x 240mm x 65mm) desktop as shown in the picture (click for larger view). It contains a single core 1.6GHz Intel Atom Processor. It supports 2 SATAII connections and has one 200 pin DDR2 memory slot. At $140 it nicely priced. (There’s currently a $10 rebate running through the end of March bringing it down to $130, unfortunately I got mine in February.)

For memory I got Kingston 2GB 200-pin DDR2 533 memory giving it 2GB on a single memory stick. The MSI takes laptop memory so I expected it to be more expensive but the price was comparable to 2Gb desktop memory at $21.

For the hard drive I used my old standby, the Western Digital Caviar Green Drive. They’re currently $60 but I used one I had available.

I used the ASUS DVD/CD Burner with Lightscribe to do the installation but it didn’t stay installed after the build was complete. It’s a $28 drive but any SATA CD drive could be used for the installation. The MSI Wind doesn’t have any IDE ports. I was able to boot and install using this drive without making any BIOS changes. A USB keyboard and mouse are also needed for the build but aren’t needed once it’s done.

In total, the server has $200 worth of hardware (barebones/RAM/HDD). I’ll be reusing the hardware later. If I was to add the Windows Home Server software it would be another $100. So the OS alone would be 1/3rd the cost of the Windows Home Server. In this case I installed the software but didn’t enter the key to activate it. I used an OEM copy of the software so it gives a 30-day evaluation period when no license key is entered. In retrospect I would have used Microsoft’s evaluation copy since it provides a 60-day evaluation period.

The MSI Wind Barebones has two internal SATAII ports with cables that are just long enough to reach the internal drive bays. One is a 3.5” bay for the hard drive, the other is a 5.25” bay for a CD drive. I suppose a second hard drive could be added with the right brackets. For the installation I unhooked the hold-down tab so the cable would reach the DVD drive laying on top of the case. Installation of the drive and RAM was straight-forward. I didn’t use a CF card and as others have mentioned, installation of the CF-card would be a pain. For power there’s an external 65w laptop power supply.

Once the hardware was assembled I booted off the Windows Home Server DVD and went through the installation without incident. But once the installation was done I didn’t have any network connectivity and device manager didn’t recognize the network card.

Trying to install the drivers from the enclosed MSI CD resulted in an error that it was an unsupported OS. I just ended up going to the Realtek website and downloaded the drivers for WinXP (WinServer 2003). Once I loaded the drivers all was well with the Windows Home Server.

The WHS has already served it’s purpose and the evaluation period ran out yesterday. It ran without incident. I didn’t do any benchmarking but since I was concerned about viruses I did install the evaluation copy of the Avast AV software for WHS. Even with the AV overhead the file copies and backups felt quick enough. Another benefit is the silence of the hardware.

I suppose the MSI Wind barebones makes a cost effective WHS although expandability is limited. There are 6 USB ports (4 back, 2 front) but if you’re going to add all those external USB drives you’ll be going against the initial compact size and low power usage. The 65w power supply should support a second internal hard drive although I’d be more concerned about heat than power if a second hard drive is added.

In the end, the MSI barebones did what it needed to do as a Windows Home Server.

Disabling WordPress Post Revisions

Sometimes it takes awhile for things to sink in through my skull. WordPress added post revisions back in version 2.6. So after months of seeing those post revisions listed, and those messages about there being a newer version than what I had posted I decided to do something about them.

Since it’s introduction I haven’t used the post revision feature so the decision to turn it off was a no-brainer. This is done by adding the following line to the wp-config.php file: define('WP_POST_REVISIONS', false);

This doesn’t delete the existing post revisions but since that requires touching the MySQL database I decided to wait until I had a backup and the time to restore if things went bad.

I finally had the time this weekend I removed the old revisions. The information came from Andrei Neceulau and his instructions for removing the revisions in WordPress 2.6. While others have posted queries that remove the post revisions themselves, Andrei has a query that also removes the meta data for those posts.

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to leave the old post revisions in the database, but I don’t like the idea of this useless data clogging my database. As for the revision feature itself, I guess it could be useful in some cases but certainly not for me.

The OS Quest Trail Log #39: Site Tweak Edition

It’s been about a month since the last trail log. While I had a few posts since then they’ve been a bit lacking in depth. My day job, the one that pays the bills, has been keeping me busy. But I’ve also been trying to expand my web and WordPress knowledge if I’ve been motivated to do something that wasn’t mindless after a day of work I’ve been playing in this are.

In addition to keeping my WordPress install, including plug-ins, up to date I’ve made the following tweaks:

  • The header is now a graphic and takes up less vertical space
  • Added a “Home” selection as the first item in the menu bar. While clicking on the header brings up the home page and seems “obvious” to me since it’s not so common, it’s not necessarily obvious to everyone.
  • Removed the large vertical ad block along the right and the three ad blocks in the footer.
  • Modified the category tiles used for posts in the “Likes & Gripes” and “Quick Bits” categories. Added a little color and matched the font used in the header. I like to begin each post with a picture or graphic but these categories are usually quick entres without a picture. They don’t appear in the rss feeds or single post pages.
  • In made minor css changes to include elements I liked from previous themes. Nothing major.

I also pulled in the content from WHSQuest.com which was a small blog I started but didn’t keep up with. Most of the content was already here which is one reason why that site didn’t grow. I also added a “Windows Home Server” page to this site in order consolidate my WHS information.

As Murphy would have it, right after I made these changes and spent a lot of time working on others a new version of the Thematic theme framework that I used was released. I’m not complaining though. It seems to have some great new features and I like the look of the default theme. The downside is since the changes seem significant it will probably take some time for me to get the update in place. I like to do changes a little at a time to see how I like them, but in this case it will probably be significant change. But fun stuff.

New & Updated Software

I did finally install iWork 09. I’ve really only used number and even that just lightly. But the finally added the ability to freeze header rows and columns to Numbers. So now they stay on screen while scrolling. Seems like a basic spreadsheet function to me and I never understood why it wasn’t there on day 1.

I have iLife 09 but it remains in the box. I just haven’t wanted to deal with the change right now. Or the inevitable problems that seem to come with each new Apple software release these days. Faces and Places seems nice but as my existing photos are already tagged for this data it’s not something I’m burning to use.

PC Builds

I done a couple builds I haven’t yet mentioned on this site. Although I haven’t made the switch yet the new PC for my parents is built. This weekend I’ve visit and get a clone of the current hard disk along with copies of the CDs for the software install. As part of this move I built a small Windows Home Server from available parts so I could use it for the migration.  Hopefully I’ll have time to write those up soon.

On Tap

My parents PC migration will probably take up much of my free time for the next couple of weeks. I figure a visit this weekend for backups and copies so I can install the software during the week and bring the new PC over the following weekend.

If I have the energy after a days work I’ll being digging into WordPress, CSS and related topics.

Flushing the Mac OS X DNS Cache

I was doing some website work this weekend which involved a DNS change to move a website to a new server. These DNS changes usually go pretty quick for me although I don’t usually change servers. In this case it had been over 24 hours and I was still getting the old site from my iMac. I did a DNS query and everything pointed to the new server. Since I use OpenDNS I was also able to verify what address their name servers had.

So finally I fired up another PC and went to the website. The new site loaded just fine. The old site kept coming up on my iMac so it was time to fiond out how to flush the local DNS cache without the pain of a reboot. The command to flush the cache is issued from terminal and is: dscacheutil -flushcache

Once I did that all was well.