Author Archives: Ben Wagner

MediaPortal

MediaPortal on Windows Home Server

MediaPortal is a PVR/media application that handled TV recording as well as media management like Windows Media Center. It is a free open source program that can be found here.

I initially thought it would be very simple to install the TV Server portion of the applicaiton on my WHS in order to handle the recording and streaming, but unfortunately WHS is not supported by MediaPortal and there are a few hoops to jump through in order to get this to work.

I downloaded the latest version of MediaPlayer and when trying to install it said that WHS (recognized as Windows Server 2003 SP2) was not supported, but lets you continue with the installation anyway. I selected ‘advanced installation’ so that I can just install the ‘Dedicated TV-Server (master)’ component and not the MediaPortal client application. During the installation it says you need to install Windows Media Player 11, since WMP 11 is not supported by WHS you will need to follow the directions below in order to successfully install it.

To install Media Player 11:

  1. Download wmp11-windowsxp-x86-enu.exe
  2. Open this file in an extraction program such as WinZip or 7-Zip (I used 7-Zip)
  3. Extract the wmfdist11.exe and wmp11.exe and place them in separate folders on the C: drive of your WHS (not on a share). (this step was adapted from instructions I was following elsewhere – I’m not certain of the separate folders requirement, but I did it anyway)
  4. From the WHS admin desktop, right-click the wmfdist11.exe file and click properties.
  5. Go to the Compatibility tab and ticket the “Run this program in compatibility mode for:” box, and select Windows XP from the drop down.
  6. Click OK, and run the wmfdisk11.exe. Choose not to restart at the end.
  7. Repeat 4-7 for the wmp11.exe

Source: Jay Schlackman

After this is complete, run through the MediaPortal installer, if you have any issues check the ones that I ran into (below) for my solutions.  Once installation is complete, launch the “TV-Server Configuration” and now you can follow the official guide for setting up a MediaPortal TV-Server or various other guide that you can find online.

I will post back with my thoughts on MediaPortal after I have some time to play around with it.

Issues along the way

Failed to startup tvserviceSystem.Net.Sockets.SocketException

At the end of the installation or when I try to launch the TV-Server configuration, I got the following lengthy error message (my PC’s IP address is blacked out). I tried a number of suggestions that I found online but to no avail. After a number of hours troubleshooting this issue, I decided to revert to version 1.0.1 which can be found on their SourceForge page and everything worked fine.

Failed to startup tvserviceSystem.Net.Sockets.SocketException

Your platform is not supported by MediaPortal

Whenever you try to launch the application you will get an error message saying that the platform is not supported, but you can ignore this message.

mySQL – set password error: 1

Since I ran into some issues getting Media Portal installed on WHS I ended up going through the install/uninstall process a number of times. While doing this I ran into an error message when installing MySQL that said “mySQL – set password error: 1” and quit the installation. In order to fix this you must uninstall MySQL from the Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs and the navigate to the C:\Program Files\MySQL directory and delete it. After this, reboot your PC and try the installation again and it should work just fine. If you are still having issues, in the advanced installation you can choose too install Microsoft SQL Express 2005 as your database instead of MySQL to circumvent this message.

WHS v2 Vail

From what I have read MediaPortal should install without much hassle on the newer version of WHS codename Vail. The beta is out for WHSv2, but I do not have the extra hardware to run those tests at this time.

Grooveshark in your Steam browser

I got this idea from a post I saw on reddit and thought it was so cool that I wanted to share it here.

Grooveshark and Steam may seem like a weird combination to talk about at once, but if you are a big fan of both, like I am, there is a great application for these two programs that you may not have realized.

You can use the in-game Steam browser and load up Grooveshark.com and that way you can listen to and control your music without leaving the game! Even if you have dual monitors you may typically leave Grooveshark opened on one screen while playing on the other, but you have to Alt+Tab out of the game in order to get to the browser, sometimes minimizing the game.

Complete Overview of Installing FlexRAID in Windows 7

If you are not familiar with FlexRAID, it is essentially an alternative to the traditional RAID and more similar to unRAID, except that it is free. FlexRAID offers a number of benefits over traditional RAID. Currently FlexRAID is a snapshot RAID and not real-time, making it suitable for data that does not change very often (eg. movie/music archive) as you are only able to revert to a state when a snapshot was taken, not the most recent state before disk failure. However, a real-time version of FlexRAID is under development called FlexRAID Live.

[TABLE=2]

I put together this guide because I was looking all over the place for a comprehensive, beginning-to-end, guide to running and installing FlexRAID so I could evaluate the software and decide if I wanted to move to FlexRAID for my filestorage.

This guide will take you through the process of installing FlexRAID on a Windows 7 computer. This will include managing the configruation through the WebUI and installing FlexView so that all your drives show up as a single instance of pooled storage. This guide was written when FlexRAID version 1.4 beta was the most up to date release.

FlexRAID Installation (Host, CMD, and WebUI)

  1. If UAC (user account control) is enabled you must disable it during this installation process but it can be re-enabled afterwards. A guide can be found here.
  2. Install the FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4 with default settings so that it installs FlexRAID as a service.
  3. Install the FlexRAID CMD client for Windows
  4. Launch the CMD Client.
  5. It will prompt you to Connect to: and here you type “localhost“.
  6. It should connect immediately and leave you with a command prompt where you want to type “view install” to install FlexView. You will see a message saying FlexRAID-View was successfully installed and you can proceed.
  7. Download and save the WebUI 1.4 beta for Windows client to your Desktop
  8. Unzip the WebUI folder and move it to C:\FlexRAIDWebUI. You can move it wherever you want, but you need to make sure there are no spaces in the path.
  9. To launch the WebUI you need to open the folder C:\FlexRAIDWebUI and run start.cmd, this will open a command prompt that will begin to startup the WebUI. The first time you run this you will be prompted by Windows Firewall to Allow access to java.exe, you must click Allow.
  10. Give the webserver a few moments to start up and then you can type http://localhost:8080 into your browser to bring up the FlexRAID login screen.
  11. The default login and password are admin, admin

FlexRAID WebUI Configuration

  1. This is a very good guide by FlexRAID’s author, Brahim, about how to go through configuring a FlexRAID setup through the WebUI, so I will not bother to re-explain these steps. If you have just added hard drives to the computer and they do not show up in the WebUI, you must go into Computer Management>Disk Management to Initialize and Format the disks. The WebUI will only show the disks that are visible in the My Computer window.
  2. For my setup I am running the T1+ RAID engine and have 2 DRU’s set up, H:\ and I:\ and drive J:\ is the single PPU. I have decided to dedicate entire disks to this array, but one of the features of FlexRAID is the ability to put certain folders in the array if you wanted.

FlexRAID-View Configuration

From the other guides I read on the topic, I found this portion to be the most confusing and it took experimenting in order to get it to display the way I had wanted and expected. The official guide can be found here and includes more details and tweaks than I will discuss.

  1. Open the FlexRAID CMD window, login to “localhost”, and then enter the following 2 commands to install patches to make it work on Windows 7 and then close out of the command window.
    • patch install view-sys-patch
    • patch install view-cl-patch
  2. We need to change the permissions of the FlexRAID Host folder so that we can create a View Configuration file. In order to do this. navigate to the OpenEgg directory which by default is “C:\Program Files (x86)\OpenEgg.org” and right click on the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and select Properties. Click on the “Security” tab and click “Edit” to change the permissions. Click on Users and check off Allow for the Modify and Write permissions and press Apply.
  3. Now open the “FlexRAID Basic Host Service 1.4” folder and Right Click>New>Text Document and name this file “ViewConfig”.
  4. The contents of my ViewConfig.txt file are below. With FlexRAID-View you have to model every folder join that is taking place, even in the sub-folders. This is a simple example, but what is happening is that I have specified drive Z to be the drive that shows up with the specified “virtual” view, using DRU’s H: and I:. Then I go on to model Z: which contains the virtual folders Music and Videos. Then each of those virtual folders are defined below. The syntax for this file can be found in the guide FlexRAID-View guide mentioned above, but for me a simple example really helped get a basic understanding.
  5. The config file below allows me to open the Z: drive and see 2 folders, Music and Videos. The contents of those folders will be a combination of the files and folders found within the respective folders on the H: and I: drives.

    Note: FlexRAID View does not manage load balancing the drives or distributing your files in a smart method, but rather all the files you move into a folder will be on your first drive specified, in this case for Videos it is drive H: and then once H: is full it will overflow to drive I:.

DRIVE=Z UNIQUE=H:\;I:\ RESTRICT= RESERVE=2GB THREAD=5 REMOVABLE=false -Z:\ |-<Music> |-<Videos> -Z:\Music |-*H:\Music |-*I:\Music -Z:\Videos |-*H:\Videos |-*I:\Videos

FlexRAID Data Recovery Simulation/Test

Before you decide to transition to FlexRAID it is a good idea to test the recovery to make sure it works and make sure you understand the proper procedure to recover from various failures. I was initially unsure about how to go about these tests but I have documented them below. All my testing is being done with VMWare Workstation so I can easily simulate suddenly disconnecting (eg. failure) and adding disks but the same can be done using physical hardware.

  1. In order to test a simulated failure, copy some files to the disks you want to be fault resistant.
  2. Enter the web-ui and run an update to rebuild the parity.
  3. After the build is complete, disconnect any one of the disks and you will be unable to access the files from the disconnected disk.
  4. Insert a new disk (or you can just use a new folder on one of the disks if you do not have a spare drive laying around).
  5. Map the new drive to replace the failed drive.
  6. In the web-ui, restore the data to the newly added drive.
  7. If it restores the data that was on the original drive, you are all set.

I hope this was helpful.

NOTE: The author of FlexRaid is working on v2 of the application and from the screenshots on his website it looks like a very sleek new interface. The core part of this guide seems like it will still be applicable, but many of the steps will likely be simplified with the new Web-UI.

Jolicloud Review

Jolicloud is a version of linux that is designed for the computers designed to stay connected – netbooks. They have recently release version 1.1 of their operating system so I decided to take another look. I immediately saw major visual changes from what I experienced when I fooled around with the pre-release v0.9. What makes Jolicloud different from other versions of linux is that it is based around the cloud as is geared towards non-technical users.

Having only played around in linux for brief periods of time I found it to have an extremely steep learning curve. Jolicloud completely eliminates this.

Jolicloud is basically an application launcher that sits in front of the typical linux desktop. That way when you log in you are presented with a set of icons for your applications in a format that upon first glance resembles an iPhone.

I have gone through the process of installing applications in linux and have run into many issues due to my lack of experience. However, in Jolicloud, the process of adding applications could not be simpler. You just press the big green Add application button and you are presented with all the applications (over 700). This list of available applications is not only sorted into categories so you can browser, but it is also completely searchable. You just click Add next the the application(s) you want and they get downloaded and installed for you.

One of the features that Jolicloud prides itself on is its cloud storage abilities. What this means for a user is that when they add an application on 1 computer, that application is also automatically synced and added to any other computer that you log into with your Jolicloud account. That means you will no longer have to worry about installing all of your programs when you switch/transfer computers.

The major focus of jolicloud is staying connected and to me it feels similar to Boxee. You can follow your friends and you can see streams of information from them about things like what applications they recommend or what they have recently installed.

You may be thinking, what good is syncing and cloud storage if I only want to run this OS on my single netbook or laptop. But recently Jolicloud has come out with a Chrome extension, allowing you to access all your files and applications from anywhere, using your Chrome browser.

Jolicloud Chrome dashboard

Google Voice – Create Separate Voicemails for Contacts and Strangers

One of the other features availiable with Google Voice is the ability to create different voicemail messages for different groups of contacts and completely different messages for strangers who call. This was very useful recently when I was interviewing I had set my default voicemail to be a formal message so that it sounds professional for when I am contacted by an employer, and yet when my friends or family call they still hear my normal, short “Hey it Ben leave a message.”

You will first want to set up Google Voice as your primary voicemail which I have previously discussed.

Assuming all of your contacts are already in Google Contacts, which is very simple to do with an Android phone or a Blackberry using Google Sync, they just have to be placed into groups. By going to the Google Contacts page either through Gmail or GV, you need to assign all of the contacts to specific groups (eg. friends, family, etc.). You will be able to specify one voicemail message for each group, so divide them up accordingly.

Now we just need to modify some GV settings.  Go to voice.google.com and go to Settings > Voice Settings on the top right. On the ‘Voicemail & Text’ tab you want to record some greetings (at least one for the public and one for your grouped contacts, but you can choose to record as many as you want).  On this drop down list, set the default voicemail greeting, that is what non-contacts (strangers) will hear when they call you.

On the ‘Groups’ tab you can ‘Edit’ each group and choose which voicemail message those group members will hear.

Swype Finally Sending Out Invitations

Months ago I applied for the Swype beta program but I was too late and they had already closed down the registration so I put my name down to be notified when it would be available again and today I finally got that message.

Swype is pleased to invite you to login and try our Swype Beta for Android.

You signed up to be emailed when this happened, and probably gave up on us. Well, we are (finally) pleased to activate your Swype Beta for Android account. Thanks for being patient over the last 6 months as we’ve been focused on improving the product and preparing for our launch with multiple phone manufacturers and carriers.

Swype had fallen off my radar and I had written it off, never expecting to get to use it on my Droid. I am very excited to give this a shot and I will post my thoughts shortly as I have been using the standard software keyboard these past few months.

Create a gPXE bootable USB drive

gPXE is an open source network bootloader which I have been using to boot of iSCSI targets.

In order to get gPXE onto a bootable USB drive you must first create a custom image using their ROM-o-matic. Here you can choose the appropriate NIC and add additional options or an embedded script that will run automatically. You will want to choose “USB Keychain disk image (.usb)’ as the output format.

Rename the downloaded gpxe-xxxx.usb to gpxe-xxxx.img

Then download and run Win32DiskImager and point the application to gpxe-xxxx.img

Chose the device that corresponds to your USB flash drive and press ‘Write’.

Now all you have to do is plug the USB drive into the destination and boot from the USB device.

Astrid Logo

Switching from Remember the Milk to Producteev with Astrid

A couple of days ago the popular Android tasks application, Astrid, announced that they will no longer be able to provide task syncing with Remember the Milk. Astrid did however give users the option of running an older version of Astrid or a version with certain features disabled (these features violated RTMs ToS and are the reason for this announcement). Additionally, Astrid will work with Producteev and Google Tasks.

I have chosen to jump ship from RTM and try out Producteev which seems to have many of the same features as RTM and the ones that GTasks lack, such as tagging. I was wondering how I was going to get all my tasks/assignments in the middle of the semester over to this new service, but figured I would just try syncing all my information into Producteev with Astrid and cross my fingers.

I signed up for a Producteev account and opened up Astrid on my Droid. I typed in my new credentials under the sync settings for Producteev and a sync began. I opened up the Producteev website and my tasks were immediately popping up, one at a time. To finish up, within Astrid I logged out of RTM sync.

In just a few minutes all my tasks had been accurately moved from RTM to Producteev using Astrid and now I can continue syncing my tasks from my phone to the cloud for safe keeping and easy editing while staying with the most up to date version of Astrid for my phone.

Test Read/Write speed in FreeNAS

Navigate using the ‘cd’ command into your zpool which is in the /mnt directory.

Run the following command to test Write speed
# dd if=/dev/zero of=testfile bs=1024 count=50000

Run the following command to test Read speed
# dd if=testfile of=/dev/zero bs=1024 count=50000

The first test will write a file called ‘testfile’ to your zpool and then the second test will read back that same file. You can change the count in order to change how large a file to create.

WHS Redirect My Documents with Offline Sync

In this guide I will explain how to redirect the the My Documents folder to the User share on a Windows Home Server. Also, I will set up Offline File Syncing so the computer can be disconnected from the network and still maintain access to the files. Upon reconnecting to the network the changes will by automatically synchronized.

The individual User folders are automatically created when adding a user to the Windows Home Server and it is set so only the specific user has read/write access. This is a great way to manage your files if you are working on multiple computers and/or are using a laptop that is occasionally removed from the local network and you still need access to all of your files.

Part I: Redirect My Documents Folder

In Windows XP or Vista, you can can right click on the “My Documents” or “Documents” folder in Windows Explorer and click on Properties.

In Windows 7 you need to navigate to the actual My Documents folder which is located by default in C:\Users\UserName\My Documents. Right click on that folder and click on Properties.

Navigate to the Location tab where you will see the current My Documents path.

In this section change the path to the Windows Home Server share that you will be using as the new My Documents folder. In my case I changed the path to \\whs\Users\ben.

You will be asked if you want to move over the contents My Documents to the new path (do this if the files do not already exist in the destination). In my case, I copied over the files before I started this process. Make sure your files are in the new location and then you can delete your old My Documents folder.

Part II: Configure Offline File

Navigate to the new My Documents folder in the WHS share, right click on it, and select Properties. Go to the Offline Files tab and check off ‘Always available offline.’ Press sync now to begin the sync which should take a few minutes.

You can test to make sure everything is working by creating a test file and saving it to your My Documents folder, disconnecting your network connection, open the test file, make a modification, save it, reconnect network connection and navigate to the share (ex. \\whs\users\ben) and open the test file from that location. If it shows the modification that you made when you were offline you are all set.

Note: I found that Battlefield Bad Company 2 and possibly other games or applications that access game files in the My Documents folder do not run properly when it is redirected to a network share (ex. extreme lag in BFBC2).