Speed Testing via the Linux Command Line

October 7, 2015 4:49pm
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Last night I relocated a bunch of computer stuff – namely my home server and router – to our bedroom closet, which in a positive way got it more up and out of the way so that we only have to listen to fans spinning when we’re picking out clothes to wear, but in a not-so-positive way, it means that at least until I climb into the ceiling to run ethernet cables around the house, my rig in my office will be relying on wifi instead of a wired network connection for a while.

Now this didn’t really seem like much of a big deal until this morning I noticed that Verizon dropped its prices on the higher Internet tiers and now upgrading to 150 Mbps is only an extra $20 instead of $50!

And mind you, I don’t necessarily need most of that speed here at my desktop, but I am somewhat addicted to speed tests just to randomly remind me how awesome my Internet connection is these days, and not for nothing but speed tests over wifi kind of suck.

That said, my home server is still hard wired because it’s literally sitting right next to the router in the closet now, so a bit of quick Googling found this nifty post that provides a great walkthrough of how to run speed tests directly from the command line in your friendly, neighborhood linux box…

I already had Git installed, so it was maybe 30 seconds to pull down the speedtest-cli script and copy it into /usr/local/bin, then I was off to the races! I’m pretty much a sworn user of Speedtest.net, so to see that it was interfaced directly with them was an easy win. And the customization is neat, too, how you can either run in a default for the fastest host or choose your own, in addition to getting the link for your results badge to wear so proudly.

My favorite feature, though, is how simple they made batch testing so now you can actually pick multiple locations around the world and kick them all off in rapid succession. Though normally I default to my web host up in New Jersey because I think testing with a local server here is stupid when we don’t really have a lot of data centers here for major websites anyways, they were admittedly running a little slow this morning so it was neat to be able to also throw in LA and Miami as two other corners of the country to help round my test results out!

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Now to see if I can find that promo where they were giving away the free router to upgrade to 150/150… 😛

Plex Streaming 101

October 6, 2015 4:56pm
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For Plex proponents like myself, this video is a nice, simple walkthrough of the ways that Plex Media Server streams media to different devices both in your home and abroad.

I’ve been lucky up to this point in that the main devices that we use Plex on at home are two Samsung TVs and Plex Home Theater on my computer, all of which support DirectPlay. So far this has been a good configuration for us because even adding my sister-in-law remotely who occasionally needs to transcode due to receiving Internet speed, it hasn’t really affected simultaneous playback here at home. Nonetheless, I can see beefier processing power in our future eventually to help from buffering if we add any more relatives connecting in the same manner who all want to watch at the same time.

But hopefully by then I’ll have justified the bump up to a swanky rack-mount server boasting a sexy RAID configuration and a new motherboard that supports multiple processors! 😉

So I stumbled across this website called the Library of Babel last night, and it’s kind of freaky.

Essentially they’ve created an algorithm that has created every combination of letters … ever. Or at least up to 3,200 characters, for starters. But it’s all indexed, so whatever you type, there’s a page in this vast library that already says whatever you were going to say…

Like – this last paragraph that I just wrote – it can be found here:

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Or even just completely made up nonsense that’s disappointingly not actually true:

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Apparently the site is based on a short story by an author from Argentina written in 1941, well before the Internet was ever a public notion, which is kind of crazy to think of the notion prior to the architecture being available to actually make it a reality … a futurist in the true sense of the word!

Now granted, despite having a computer that can literally generate any text that could ever be conceived, it still takes the creativity of humans to bring the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings to be consumable by mankind … the crux of having everything is that you’ve got the literary classics surrounded by an almost infinite amount of garbage unless you already know what you’re searching for.

Even looking at only samples of 3,200 characters, the library currently contains 104677 books of information, whereas there are estimated to be approx. 130 million books published in modern history today … to say that the meaningful texts available represent only a fraction of a fraction of the everything that this algorithm creates…

…but it’s still kind of a neat concept from a technical perspective, nonetheless.

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Just did an experiment because Plex videos have been buffering more than usual, especially some new home videos that I added tonight from our phones, so I ran a cable from the TV in our living room directly to our router to see if it really is the wifi bogging down.

Verdict … yes and no.

Random stuttering seems to have improved and I was able to play a couple of key movies that have given me troubles in the past without a sputter in sight. That said, apparently there’s a known issue with Plex sending .MOV files to Samsung TVs on the home movie side, so I’ll have to do some more digging there…

I also learned – because I had to move my router into the spare room next door where the server is for the cables to all reach – that apparently the coax jack in that room isn’t live after all! Wonderful. Thankfully I had a piece of coax long enough to run around the corner from my office, but that’s one more thing I’m going to have to look into when I’m poking around the attic, which is now going to have to happen sooner rather than later on account of the ethernet cable now running overhead in the kitchen!

I think I need to get one of those dorky headlamps to wear before I plan my adventure upstairs… 😕

Home Tech Talk, Part 2

August 30, 2015 9:07pm
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So picking up where I left off last night, I think these are going to be my next points of focus around the house…

Run Cat6 to the Living Room and Bedrooms
Not really looking forward to this because it means I have to go up into the attic and I’m always afraid of falling through the ceiling, but I’m figuring that wiring up these two rooms so that Plex doesn’t have to run over the wifi is right now probably the easiest thing I can do for the occasionally freezing that we see during playback.

Run Cat6 Out to the Garage for FiOS
Right now we have 75 Mbps symmetrical service, which is awesome, but to upgrade to anything faster we actually have to move away from using coax and run ethernet direct from where the fiber comes into the house to our router. Verizon claims that they’ll do this themselves during the upgrade, but who knows what the quality will be, and if I have to be up in the attic for wiring the other rooms anyways, it makes sense to just do this one at the same time.

Improving Backups on My Local Server
Part of this will be easy and part will be a pain. The easy part … right now I have a local install of CrashPlan pushing something from the server into the cloud, but I honestly don’t even remember what … it could just be test files from when I first got it setup, for all I know! So I just need to review and update the backup plan so that it includes more of the things that it should – Plex’s database and local settings, and some other random stuff sitting there that I want to preserve. It’s probably still not appropriate to push 20 TB of media files into the cloud, but I’m cool with sending 100 GB of music files for now.

The less easy part is facilitating backups from my web server that hosts all of my sites from an actual data center. They technically do regular backups within their own network at no charge to me, but just to be on the safe side I wouldn’t mind pulling down another copy of everything to keep archived here just in case. It’s only like 15 GB for everything anyways, so it’s not a ton of files, and I think that WHM even has an option to FTP another copy of the backup set to another location when it’s running. I just need to take an afternoon to figure it all out and get the thing working…

Organizing and Sharing Photos
Now with bringing my wife’s iPhone/iPad photos into the mix, we’re sitting on a collection of something like 40,000 photos over the last 15 years and as unmotivated as I am to print them out and fill photo books, it’s still fun to flip through them online so I think I want to finally figure out a manageable way to put them online for regular browsing. Not sure if it’s going to be Flickr, or a self-hosted WordPress install, or something else … I guess that Plex has options for Photos & Home Videos, too, so this one’s still wide open, but it’s something I’d like to do before we get up to 50,000!!!

Automated Christmas!
And the last one is something that I eluded to yesterday, and tonight I found another cool option, but their beginner set still costs upwards of $500 so it’s going to be a while before I can splurge here and it still might not happen this year. Still, I love the idea of a truly customizable Christmas light display where not only can I make the lights dance to music, but can even choose the color of each bulb as well, so no more fighting for the right combinations of colors at Lowe’s and Walmart and wherever else my lighting takes me…

…although at &^(%% per string, they’d better turn any color you want them to! 😯

Envisioning My Automated Home…

August 30, 2015 1:21am
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So I spent some time reviewing my home server/network setup as it stands so far and it got me thinking about what might be the next steps on down the road.

I’m fairly happy with my media server, and aside from squeezing in maybe one more hard drive to satiate demand, it’s pretty much as far as I can take it until I can drop a couple of grand into expanding to new rack-mount hardware and a separate, high-end NAS for storage.

Backups are good, too, as all of my most important files (writing, pictures, tax and finance stuff) are triple backed up between a local backup and two independent cloud destinations, and just tonight I’m finally looping my wife’s devices into the schema so that the bajillion photos of Christopher that she takes will be safe and secure, too! 😉

So what’s next???

At first I started thinking about trying to automate our Christmas light display outside, though I’m not sure what kind of costs are reasonable on that front. I’ve seen a few setups where people just setup controls to flip the individual strands on and off, though I’m not sure how safe that is for your standard, residential Christmas lights that one buys at Home Depot.

I also briefly researched the idea of going the landscape lighting route because it’s probably more durable for the task, and I found this custom LED system that looks really freaking sweetbut the fixtures alone are about $100 a piece … I’m kind of afraid to ask how much the controller that runs everything is!

Maybe some day… 

Then there’s your more traditional automated home offerings – security system, cameras, thermostat, etc… – and although I really have no idea what I want at this point, maybe it would be something fun to tinker with until I both figure that out and hit the lottery to be able to fund it all!

I figure I’ve got a couple of years to get there, anyways, because I honestly see this house that we’re in right now as more of a test house, at least from this regard. Our goal in the next five years is to be able to built our dream house where we’ll ideally spend the rest of our days, so that’s where we’ll want to splurge on all of these kinds of bells and whistles, but just like our home server has been resurrected and grown so far this year, it’s still fun to experiment and play around with what I can get my hands on in the meantime until we build up to that point of dropping thousands of dollars on network-connected fixtures and wiring the entire house to best fit our modern, connected lifestyles! 😀

In the meantime, I can still see a more immediate need to at least hardwire connectivity to the rooms where Plex gets used, and I’m thinking we might splurge and upgrade the FiOS to that 150 Mbps package they offer before long … because I just learned that apparently they’ve got a promo giving the $200 router we need to upgrade to away for free with the upgrades right now!

We’ll see – maybe come Christmastime I’ll start tinkering with a single network camera or controlling the star on the Christmas tree via computer … gotta start somewhere.

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I don’t know what it is about this movie because it’s really just awful, but there’s something about its awfulness that makes it ideal for turning on at 3:00am when you really should just call it a night and go to bed already!

And it’s funny because I don’t think I actually discovered the full movie until a couple of years ago after having seen bits and pieces online and finally searching out the actual name of the thing, but I’m pretty sure that I did first hear that “classic” line from the likes of Duke Nukem, even though as terrible as it was, I do think it was still better delivered by Roddy Piper.

Fun Facts: Apparently Roddy was also a fairly successful professional wrestler, and now he has his own podcast! 😕

“…either put on these glasses or start eatin’ that trash can!”

movies thoughts … Avengers: Age of Ultron

May 16, 2015 4:39pm
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Avengers_Age_of_UltronWent and saw this a week ago because apparently that’s what you do when someone offers to play sitter for a night! And although I’d argue that it wasn’t necessarily as good as the first one, it was still nonetheless enjoyable…

I mean, I guess that should really be expected – the two movies are three years apart and after the second round of movies, pretty much all of the characters … except Hawkeye … are pretty well-rounded out at this point, and we even got to learn a bit more about him during this group sequel to even the odds a bit, too.

I think if anything, watching this movie makes me really wonder what to expect from the next couple of Marvel films – particularly Captain America: Civil War, as well as both parts of Infinity War which I’m really looking forward to because I’ve kind of taken in interest in seeing all of the stones coming together and I’m sure when Thanos finally gets his hands on the complete set, it’s going to be pretty incredible!

But more speculation … how are we going to see the team change as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to evolve??? I really loved the glimpse at the end of Cap and Black Widow preparing to train the next generation of Avenger, which I don’t think that I was really ready to wrap my head around 5 years ago but as we see the stories and personalities – both on and off camera – beginning to intertwine, and especially when you consider how pretty much every plot imaginable was attempted at one point or another in the comics, maybe change could be good after all.

Except for Ant-Man, because he just looks stupid.

Sorry, Paul Rudd… 🙁

But think about it – there have been rumors about Robert Downey, Jr. being ready to move on from his role as Iron Man, in the comics Captain America went through an arc where Bucky actually picked up the shield and took his place after Cap’s death, and now more than ever you’ve got more stars – and good ones, too – competing for screen time. I didn’t think that I was really going to care for Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch when I saw them in both the trailer as well as the teaser at the end of whatever movie that was, but they both really stepped up to the plate.

I think I’ve even finally gotten used to Don Cheadle as Rhodey in the War Machine armor, and I kind of hated how he booted Terrance Howard out of the role back in Iron Man 2.

And Paul Bettany’s Vision was just plain awesome … you don’t need to be able to wield Thor’s hammer to agree with that!

Anyways, the movie itself was everything you could want from an action movie – upbeat, exciting, with plenty of humor that the entire series is known for … the only problem I saw was simply that the first movie left such Hulk-sized boots to fill, this sequel – as bad-ass as it was – still couldn’t hold a candle. That first Avengers movie was a whole different kind of epic because we got to see all of the superheroes come together for the first time when they really hadn’t interacted with each other at all in their individual stories up until that point.

But the second wave of movies changed that because they had to – we’d already seen everyone fighting together once before, so it made more sense to bring Black Widow into Cap’s story and make Rhodey a bigger part of Iron Man 3, and so on and so forth.

If anything, I’m admittedly a little bummed because after Ultron kind of creeped up on us because I frankly hadn’t even realized that it was coming out this spring – fatherhood will do that to a guy! – the next couple of years are going to be kind of slow in building to the next movies in the series that I’m personally looking forward to seeing…

  • July 2015 – Ant-Man – couldn’t possibly care less
  • May 2016 – Captain America: Civil War – I’ve really taken to Cap, so hopefully this will be better than Winter Soldier
  • November 2016 – Dr. Strange – I don’t know a lot about this one…
  • May 2017 – Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – the first one actually surprised me, so I’d look forward to this
  • November 2017 – Thor: Ragnarok I’ll see it, but Thor’s movies haven’t really done much for me so far
  • May 2018 – The Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 – SO FAR AWAY – MY SON WILL BE FOUR YEARS OLD WHEN THIS FINALLY COMES OUT!!!!!
  • May 2019 – The Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2 – don’t even get me started on these multi-part movies again…

I’m sure if I looked back at the schedule that got us to this point, one good movie a year is probably about right considering that believe it or not, the first Iron Man movie actually hit us all the way back in 2008 – how’s that to make you feel old?! The MCU has been around for the entirety of the time that I’ve been married to my wife … whew! 😯

So in summary – great movie, Vision is awesome, not as epic as Avengers 1, tip of the iceberg for lots of wacky changes in the films to come. 😉

So the last time that I was back home in Michigan, I set aside another pile of stuff for my Dad to shuttle down with him during his annual vacation to a warmer climate, and one of the more interesting items was a box full of my old comics and comic & Magic cards, circa mainly my early teenage years?

Well, after leaving them out in the garage for a year and a half … which was totally a mistake because we kind of have a minor cockroach problem out there and apparently a handful took up residence around the boxes and binders (thankfully none inside the individual card boxes!) … I finally decided to bring them inside, figuring it might be fun to flip through them while I’m watching TV and see what’s even there because it’s been something like two decades now since I was into that sort of stuff!

Just for my own amusement, I decided to look up a few of the more rare ones in the mix … and I also had some old price guides from back in the day, so it was “interesting” to see how, well, apparently collectibles don’t really seem to hold their value worth a shit… 😛

First up – Magic: The Gathering cards.

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I started playing Magic right around by 14th birthday, which I’m mostly assuming based on the release dates for the series’ that we played. Admittedly I only have a fraction of what my original collection ended up being because in my later years of high school, I had started selling a lot of my rares online (via usenet!) … plus, a sizable number “disappeared” in a karmic manner which I can only say was pretty much deserved at that point in my dumb, adolescent life.

So that said, here’s a handful that jumped out as well as what this guide says they’re actually worth right now:

  • Revised : Dual Lands – Underground Sea ($180), Plateau ($40) … I knew that these had become the most rare because I’ve seen them under glass in comic shops – sucks because I used to have the whole set and I’ll bet I sold them for $15-20 a piece!
  • Revised : Fork ($2.10) … What?! These were so rare that I never even saw one until I stopped playing and was only collecting, and now you can buy them for the price of a gallon of gas???
  • Legends : Elder Dragons – Arcades Sabboth($3.57), Vaevictis Asmadi ($5) … My friends and I just missed out on Legends because the series sold out at our one and only local shop, but we later fell in love with them via Chronicles. I’ll guarantee you that I paid more than nine bucks for these when I went and bought the originals!

Next up – Marvel Comics cards.

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If Magic was (early) high school, Marvel was my middle school years because as much as I didn’t really get into comic books proper, I was super into the collectible cards of Spider-Man and Iron Man that replaced the football and basketball cards I used to collect of sports that I honestly didn’t even really understand! 😯

Now what’s really sad about these ones is that although some of the artwork on these things is just absolutely gorgeous (Hildebrandt Brothers, anyone?), apparently their value nowadays is kind of a joke – the idea that I could literally buy a complete set of any of the series that I used to collect on eBay for less than $20 a piece, with the special holograms and foil cards not costing that much more … was it that $20 was just A LOT more money to me back in 1992 than it is now or what?!

Anywho, lastly let’s talk – Comics!

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I had relatively few comic books – in fact, I think most of these were probably acquired in bulk packs at Toys ‘R Us or maybe at the grocery store, but seriously, if anything … the #1 issue of Voltron: Defender of the Universe has got to be worth SOMETHING, am I right?!?!?!

  • Current Value – $3.00

Alright, super friends – I’ll save you from the cockroach-infested garage, but it’s back into the closet with you for now…

Kevin Rose and Leo Laporte

May 14, 2015 7:15pm
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I’ve had this episode of Foundation in which Kevin Rose interviews Leo Laporte earmarked for a while now, but I finally found some time this week to listen along and it was really enjoyable just listening to someone who’s as creatively passionate as Leo talking about his career at large and the road bumps that have slowed him down along the way, and even some of the challenges he faces today with trying to transform TWiT from The Leo Laporte Network into something that’ll actually give him a chance to take a vacation after a while!

I actually really respect both of these guys because like many, I was introduced to them when I switched to digital cable back at the turn of the millennium and suddenly this amazing channel called TechTV existed to embrace this geek culture which was only starting to really blossom as the Internet itself was beginning to take hold. I’ve always kind of considered TWiT to be my lifeline back into tech because even though I honestly don’t watch any of their shows very regularly, I know that whenever I’ve got a couple of hours to kill or need something to put on in the background while I’m pretending to be productive, TWiT just has this incredible wealth of tech content from all of these passionate hosts – Leo and the rest of the former Screen Savers crew included – and it’s always a good time to see what these guys are talking about and get my finger back on the pulse of what’s really going on in tech.

Ironically, one of my favorite TWiT memories still is a few years back now when Steve Jobs passed away and listening to TWiT’s live coverage and the sort of sense of community that it presented to help make sense of such a visionary’s passing as Steve’s happened to be…

After listening to this episode in its entirety, amusingly enough YouTube then recommended an episode of Triangulation (which is one of Leo’s shows) and in fact was one where the tables were turned and Leo pretty much did the same interview with Kevin in the hot seat! I mean, so much of TWiT sometimes is just listening to these guys reminisce about TechTV and their experiences from the other side of the camera, so both interviews are a lot of fun if you happen to be fans from The Screen Savers days or even just enjoy listening to passionate people talking about their craft! 😉

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