Archive for March, 2007

Why Vonage Doesn’t Deserve to Die

March 9th, 2007 No comments

Vonage got slapped with a $50+ million patent infringement penalty today, which reminded me to say something nice about them.

I decided to switch to Vonage a few months ago to pocket some change from incentives and a lower monthly fee than Qwest. We call family in California pretty regularly so the flat rate pricing is a nice feature for us. Porting our phone number only took a week and I ended up with the first month free (which is a wash with the activation fee), a free VOIP gateway device, saved $15-20 a month over Qwest and got $200 to spend at Circuit City. I love paying less for phone service we barely use, and I spent the $200 on a Nintendo Wii for Christmas (yes, my kids love it and Wii Sports is HOT!).

It works really well for our phone setup where we have a central wireless base station and several wireless handsets around the house. I just plug the wireless base into the Vonage VOIP gateway (mine is made by Linksys) and I’m good to go with all the phones in the house.

Vonage has been working great. We get service equivalent to what we had before and it’s got a couple nice features. I particularly like that I get emails when someone leaves a voice mail. I even have it set up to send me a .wav file of the message so I can listen to it on my computer. Since I use Google Apps, I can listen to my voice mail anywhere. It’s annoying to me that their web site offers the same WAV files for download when they really should just embed a flash player in the voicemail page so you can play them directly and delete them, forward, etc. on the web. In these days of YouTube and all, it’s hard to swallow the inconvenience of downloading a file, opening another app to play it, then going back to the web to delete the message. Really makes me lust after Visual Voicemail in the upcoming iPhone.

I should mention that it does work a lot smoother on my Mac though. When I click on a voicemail recording, it opens in QuickTime player automatically and I simply press the spacebar to begin playing. On my Windows machine, it opens in iTunes, sometimes doesn’t play the audio correctly, and of course iTunes copies it into my music library so I have to delete the file when I’m done in TWO places (iTunes and the web). I tried tweaking the settings to have the WAV file play in Media Center, but there’s a huge delay in opening that beast of a program. QuickTime Player jumps to life on my Mac when I need it.

The only limitation that I’ve run into is that Vonage is sensitive to having enough bandwidth to carry the voice conversation. If I’m going mad on bittorrent, then I have to limit the upload speed to 10-15KBps (my line has about 40KBps) to avoid sending garbled sound quality to the other party. What I really need to do is look into priority queuing and traffic shaping for my Cisco router so it will automatically give the Vonage traffic priority over other outgoing traffic. Incoming traffic isn’t as much of a problem because the cable line has pretty good download speeds. The other side of the conversation is always crystal clear, which makes it hard to remember to shut down Azureus so the other person can hear me.

I’m locked in for another 7 months or so but I’m not counting the days down to jump ship (which is a pretty good compliment for something as mundane as phone service). I’ll probably look around at incentives to try Comcast’s service or go back to Qwest. But one thing is for sure – I’m done paying $45+ per month for my home phone and long distance.

Cheap Solaris Server with ZFS – Round 2

March 8th, 2007 1 comment

The new parts are on order now. I ran into some issues with the previous gear, particularly with the Intel integrated graphics adapter and the onboard LAN. I decided to go with an AMD setup because it’s been reported to work with Solaris 10. I chose the Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard, which even has an entry on the official HCL, even if there are scant details available there. I expect the video and the LAN to be recognized on install so I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t work out.

The one departure I took was to save $20 and go with GeIL memory rather than the Corsair XMS sticks I was looking at. I’ve been buying Corsair for a couple of years now, but the good reviews on convinced me to try the GeIL. The ones I picked come with racing orange heat spreaders, so they have to be fast, right? It’s still DDR2 800 (PC2-6400) RAM and should run at 4-4-4-12 if I push the voltage to 2.1. One of the things I like about Asus boards is the easy tweaking for things like this.

The main reason that I went with this setup was to really try and push the cheapest build possible to get close to 1TB of raw storage. The M2NPV-VM has 2 IDE ports and 4 SATA ports. I’ve got four 250GB SATA drives for storage and a 120GB IDE drive for the boot volume. I’ve also got a spare 250GB IDE drive (in an external enclosure at the moment) so I could potentially hook up 1.25TB of raw storage. That should yield 1TB in a RAIDZ pool (with single parity). So here’s where I am with the gear right now…

  • $84 – Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard
  • $95 – AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+
  • -$10 – combo discount on CPU/MB
  • $84 -GeIL 2x512MB DDR2 800 RAM
  • $70 – Antec SmartPower 2.0 SP-500 ATX12V 500W Power Supply
  • -$30 – rebate on PSU
  • $260 – 4x250GB SATA drives
  • $15 – shipping
  • Free – spare tower case, PS2 keyboard, mouse, SATA cables, Arctic Silver, IDE boot drive, etc.

So $568 total (assuming I can still drive a calculator) for 1000GB of storage. Maybe 1.2TB if I throw in the other drive (I already have a 500GB external – do I really need another one?). I would’ve been closer to $500 if I’d gone with something like the Celeron D or the Athlon 64 (non X2) and a slightly cheaper motherboard (w/ slower, cheaper RAM) but I figured the extra dough will save me some hassle when I’m all through with this. Considering that’s only $100 more than the external 1TB drives, I think I’m doing pretty well.

I think I’ll post some pics this time when I build the server. I always like seeing other people’s builds so I thought I could share mine with the world. In particular, I want to show some pics of the power supply (I know, I know – super geeky) because I really like the modular cable design on this unit.

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Streaming HDTV from the HDHomeRun to the Mac

March 6th, 2007 No comments

HDHomeRun GUI for MacAn enterprising user at the Silicon Dust forums has created a GUI for tuning the HDHomeRun to a particular channel and launching VLC to play the stream on your Mac. This doesn’t allow for timeshifting or PVR features, but it does let you watch live High Definition on the Mac. Now we just need integration with the IR remotes that come with newer Macs so we don’t have to touch the keyboard and mouse to change the channel. I mean, really, what is this? 1977?

Props go out to TUAW for posting the story first.

ZFS Missing from the Latest Build of Leopard

March 6th, 2007 No comments

According to the caption on this screenshot in Think Secret’s latest Leopard gallery, ZFS is not present in the latest build of OS X 10.5. This is a bit disappointing because I’m excited about the improvements in ZFS. It would be a bummer if the OS X port of ZFS didn’t make it in the final release. I hope that ZFS makes it back into Leopard.

Regardless, I’m going to continue my project to build a Solaris server using ZFS for the shared storage pool. I should be able to post more about that later this week or early next.

QuickTime 7.1.5 Now Includes “Export Movie to Apple TV”

March 6th, 2007 No comments

Apple released an update to iTunes and QuickTime today to add some new features and fix a few bugs. One of the new things that showed up in QuickTime is the ability to export a movie to Apple TV. I need to play around with it a bit more, but it appears to use a higher bitrate (around 2Mbps for my short sample)
and it sets the file type and creator on the resulting export so that it imports into iTunes.

My first experiment isn’t definitive because I started with a H.264 file. I’ll try working with a DVD rip later and update the comments for this post with the specs on the completed file.