New Desktop Upgrade

My new desktop I mentioned at the end of my last post arrived. I am fairly good about adjusting my workflow when changes or upgrades happen, but this particular change in it’s nature, is incredibly disruptive. My whole process kind of stems out from a source, which for the most part, is either my laptop or my desktop. If I were to get a new laptop, not much would change. Most of that workflow runs off of shared drives or cloud files. On the base level, the desktop works the same way, the real trick I get to deal with is the ripple effect downstream, which I will get more into in a bit.

The machine itself runs fine. It’s much much quieter than I expected it to be, which is nice. The crazy Neon lights aren’t as slightly annoying as I expected, especially once I figured out how to adjust them to be a more toned down, non pulsating, single, cooler color. The day after ordering, I realized that I might need new monitor cables, I checked and sure enough, all of the outputs save one are Display Port. My old set up consisted of a display port adapter, a DVI port and an HDMI out, all three to DVI on the monitor end. I may update the monitors later but it’s not necessary now.

The inside is crazy empty and clean. I’m not quite sure yet where I would even put additional hard drives, though I suspect they mount to the sides.

It certainly handles every game I’ve thrown at it incredibly smoothly even with maxed out graphical settings. My current plan is to keep this machine relegated mostly for gaming (a bit more on this later), so i will keep it fairly clean and free from excess software. So far I’ve tried it out with Forza Horizon 4, Overwatch, Black Desert Online, Minecraft, Control, Quake 2, and Quake 2 RTX.

The RTX is really quite remarkable. The reflections are really neat and the shadows work very well. I look forward to finding more titles that take advantage of the ray tracing capabilities.

The Ripple Effect

Where the real change is happening is down the line. For the sake of maybe alleviating some confusion, I am going to go ahead and use the Network names for my computers. The old workflow consisted of my Windows 10 Desktop, Squall, that I originally put together back in 2012. It still runs everything perfectly fine, since 2012, I’ve bumped up the RAM quite a bit, updated to an SSD, and updated the video card to a 1050ti. Sitting under the desk next to that was Rinoa, am even older box, that I am pretty sure I got second hand somewhere, running Xubuntu Linux. Xubuntu because, it’s only 32bit hardware. It’s primary function was being a web server, for my Dashboard, and a file server. It’s got several old drives in it all shared on the network to dump less important files to, because I’m a digital packrat.

The new machine is Cloud. See a pattern here yet. If it helps my laptop is Selphie, my old laptop was Rikku, my old project server years ago was Quistis and before that Yuna, my family’s laptops are Ivine, Barret,and RedXIII. They are all Final Fantasy characters.

Rinoa running 32bit hardware has been a problem for a while. Several interesting projects I have found needed to run on a 64bit system to get up and running. It’s also woefully under powered for anything robust, like running a Minecraft Server. Rinoa has been desperately in need to replacing for a while. Which is where Squall comes in now. Squall, will become the “new Rinoa”. Squall will become the new project server.

Making this change isn’t easy, it’s still not done, and I’ve been working on it for the last week. Squall is also a much more capable machine, so it changes the workflow a bit. Where Rinoa ran headless, I’ve decided to keep Squall on one of my three monitors for now, and work with it using Synergy. I can offload the load of doing things like, running the web browser off of Cloud to Squall if I want. I also can use Squall for Discord and IRC.

The first thing I decided to do was to move the Web server aspect to a Raspberry Pi. I already had a Pi running a LAMP stack to host my WordPress Archive blob. Moving the basic Dashboard was easy. Copy the files, import/export the database, and it worked, no problem. The harder part was moving the backend processes. I’ve started doing a lot of combination projects, that often consist of some sort of Python or Bash script running that dumps data to a database, and a web based GUI. Like the Network Map, or my rudimentary Twitter Scheduler or the web based Download Queue system for a particular web video downloading software that shall not be named. Getting these to work on the Pi is trickier. Partially because I’d forgotten some steps. For example, I created some environmental variables to open the database with scripts, so I didn’t have to put raw log in credentials in them. I forgot how I had done that, so I converted them back to raw log in credentials for now. I have others that are looking for commands from packages that need to be installed that I’m not sure are available on the Pi.

I’ll get it worked out, I just need a bit more time.

I’m also not real sure I want to move TT-RSS to the same Raspberry Pi, just because it’s constantly polling. I am not sure I want to run that level of read/write on an SD card and risk losing my other files. I will probably just set up a second Pi JUST to run the TT-RSS Server.

The other major thing to move is the files. I started off by consolidating everything, for simplicity’s sake. I converted and consolidated up my video files on my NAS recently, which freed up a lot of space. I’ve been meaning to re-allocate some files off of Rinoa back to the NAS and I used the move as an excuse to do just that. At the same time I consolidated the remaining files onto the largest of the various drives in Rinoa, so I can start off by just moving one drive to Squall, to reshare on the network. Moving the webserver to the Pi also meant giving the Pi an extra USB drive, for more storage. The Video Downloader that Shall Not Be Named, pulls video files, which are larger. I set up a new network share from the Pi for “Working files” and moved all of the “working Files” folders from Rinoa to the Pi.

The process overall isn’t complicated, it’s just time consuming with large data moves and some configuration changes.

Physical Set Up

Another aspect to adjust was the physical set up. Initially I just pulled Rinoa out and stuck Cloud in it’s place on the floor. This was partially done because this was the best solution for cable lengths available until the new Display Port cables arrived. I’ve got some pretty good cable management going on and I am not a fan of cables just hanging all over, a side effect of 15 years of working around equipment racks with impeccable cable management standards. Once the monitor cables arrived, I undid everything and reran all the cables, putting Squall on the floor and Cloud up on the little floor shelf under my desk. The main downside in the end is that the cleaner cable solution puts the large side window on the new PC against the backside, so I don’t get to see inside my PC all the time. Thankfully, I’m not a big fan of this aspect of the machine to start with.

Rinoa is going to just sit behind the monitors on a shelf for a bit until I finish with her, but in the end, the plan is to retire that machine out.

Going Forward

I am actually almost more excited about the prospect of molding Squall into the new Project server than I am the flashy new Gaming Rig. The 64 bit hardware and 24gb of RAM means I can do a whole hell of a lot more than I ever could with Rinoa. I can set up a massive Minecraft server with a whole heap of worlds available. I can run Docker and everything that goes along with that, I can set up a robust and speedy OpenSIM world if I want. I also plan to continue to use Squall as my Video Edit machine, no need to bog down Cloud with all that extra overhead in software and disk space. I also can much more easily start playing around with VMs.

I could have done a lot of this before of course, but I find keeping all of that up and going on a machine you are also using for day to day use and gaming gets distracting, and you start running into resource use issues much more quickly.

A Tale of Two PCs

As a bit or a change of pace, I did a bit of work on the two actual PCs I am currently running recently.  I’ve gone through a lot of desktops over the years, some getting more use than others, for a while I had like 5 or 6 old ones I had picked up here and there just sort of sitting around collecting dust but I’ve purged a lot of that out.  Most of what I used to do with those extra PCs I can now do with Raspberry Pis or on my VPS.  Everyone in the family uses a laptop, so no more need for a “Family Desktop”.  I am down to two boxes now, ok, techniclly 3 but the third is an old PowerMAC G4 that I mostly keep around because I think the case is cool.

First off, my personal desktop.  At the moment it just runs Windows 10, it’s sitting on a handful of drives for a total storage of 4 GB, mostly filled with games.  I built this machine almost 7 years ago.  It’s nothing particularly special, and I have bumped up the RAM since then considerably.  PC computing power really hasn’t gotten much better in the past few years and what it mostly needed was a bump up in graphics power.  So I swapped out the Radeon 6950 for an NVidia GTX 1050ti card.  It’s not a top of the line super card, but it was within my price range and the performance boost is reasonably noticeable.

The biggest change is that I can run pretty much everything at maxed out graphics settings.  So far I’ve tested it on Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto V, and Battlefield 1.  Battlefield 1 in particular used to throw out an error about my GPU not being supported and GTA V had some screwy artifacting when it rained in game.  Also, maybe it’s a placebo effect, but I have noticed that I do better in Overwatch with heroes like Hanzo and Widowmaker who both require more precise long distance aiming.

That work was pretty easy, though I was sort of worried that the newer card wouldn’t work with my older Chip and Board.

On my other desktop tower, which is primarily used as a file storage server to supplement my Synology, I replaced a couple of dying hard drives.  I don’t really remember where this tower came from but it’s at least the same vintage as my main PC.  It’s set up running Xubuntu with a collection of drives I’ve collected over time from various places and discarded PCs.  It’s been complaining for a while on boot that one of the drives was bad, and another would give read errors occasionally.  I copied everything off the read error drive, that one was easy.  The other bad drive turned out to be the main drive which finally gave up the ghost and stopped booting on me.  I ended up making this problem worse when trying to clone the drive, because I apparently accidentally overwrite the drive as a ZFS pool file system.  This is mostly notable because I’m not sure how it even happened.  I have used ZFS briefly int he past when I was testing FreeNAS but that system was a way bigger chore to use than just Ubuntu with Samba shares so I scrapped it.  So I’m not sure what was even cloned to create a 500GB ZFS partition.

Fortunately there wasn’t any important data actually on the main filesystem drive.  I think at worst I may have lost am unused Minecraft server set up and maybe a few webpages I had set up messing around with webdev stuff.

So after a ton of reboots on a live CD to determine which physical drive was witch in the machine, I pulled out the two bad drives and replaced them with two “mostly good” drives.  I then reloaded Xubuntu.  I then, reloaded Xubuntu again because an encrypted file system seemed like a good idea but I don’t want the hassle of entering a password every time the machine boots.

The real hassle here is getting everything configured.  A quick rundown of the steps needed to get things to a basic level of use.

  • Set up the proprietary drivers for the GPU and motherboard, easy
  • Set a static IP that puts the machine where it’s supposed to be on the network, mostly easy.
  • Reinstall Synergy.  Mostly easy, though I still need to get it to stat on boot.
  • Install and set up SSH, easy
  • Reinstall Samba, easy
  • Get the system to auto mount the other hard drives on boot, mostly easy
  • Configure Samba to share those drives, mostly easy
  • Reinstall the LAMP stack

Fortunately, everything went pretty smoothly, other than I havn’t quite figure out the right method to get Synergy to start on boot.  This is actually pretty critical, since unless the machine just boots up to a desktop with Synergy, I have to keep a keyboard and mouse attached.  Part of the point here is that this box can just be squired away behind the desk and hooked to a monitor.  It may already be set up but I’ll probably set up Python on it as well.  I still like to be able to putz around with scripts and web stuff so it’s handy to have.

PS, feel free to judge the dusty ass inside of that tower up there.

Building a Better Dance Pad

So a while ago, I designed and built my own Dance Dance Revolution Dance Pad.  I’m not going to go too much into the details behind that, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve actually used it considerably less than I’d hoped.  I also found recently that the arrows don’t detect properly anymore since they are connected to the Directional Pad which reads as analogue not digital.

So, I fixed it.  While I was fixing it, I finally added the button box I’d been meaning to add.


The button presses of a Playstation Controller are simply the creation of an electrical contact.  This can be replicated on any similar button by soldering wires to either side of the PVC board’s pads inside the controller.

Anyway,  the first task was to rewire the pad’s “buttons” to the shoulder buttons of the controller board.  Simple enough.  Now they show up as “buttons” and not analog pulls in the PC.

Step two was to make the box removable from the pad for easy storage.  This also allowed me to replace the ball of wire that I’d ended up with when building it the first time.

IMGP5406 This mess becomes a network cable and a network jack.IMGP5405 The network cable is the one used for the new connections tot he shoulder buttons.

Next is the box, which I wired to the four face buttons of the controller.  It really doesn’t matter if I use the “start” and “select” buttons since in the end, the Playstation shell is tossed out and I simply map the buttons to whatever I want in game (I have yet to see how this will affect it if i use it on the Playstation).


The end result is much cleaner and much more reliable all around.  I will probably add some stickers or something to the box to make it look prettier.

Building a New PC

I am extremely familiar with the insides and mechanics behind build a PC from scratch.  I’ve put together several machines for both personal use and at (my old) work.  I also have done numerous upgrades to hard drives, RAM, GPUs, etc over the years.  I’ve wired up cases for better cooling and upgraded a PC so much that I rebuilt the original PC with all of it’s original parts.

I’ve never ever bought all the parts at once to put them together as a cohesive whole at the same time.

In the recent move, I’ve gained an office space.  Part of my desire for this office space is that it’s not going to be where the kids hang out to play on the computer.  Unfortunately, I can’t just stick them with one of my extra older PCs, it’ll never work out.  So I’m using the opportunity to build myself a new gaming rig.  Computer components have gotten so ridiculously confusing these days.  The last time I seriously build a PC it was simple.  If the processor speed was higher, it was better.  A 2 GHZ PC was pretty much always going to be better than a 1.8ghz PC.  Unless it’s a Celeron, then it just sucked no matter what.

Now it’s all Cores and i7s, and i3s and Phenom IIs and crazy numbers that are mostly just ePeen related.  Fortunately I am aware than GPU means more to a PC than CPU.  That’s why I started with GPU.  My old machine actually performs much better than I would ever expect considering it’s only Dual core and it’s a stock Dell machine with a new GPU and some RAM.  The key was, I picked out a good GPU when I bought it.

So I did some research on benchmarks and performance and came up with a Sapphire AMD Radeon HD 6850.  It’s not a top of the line card but it ranks very highly and costs about half as much as the cards ranking similarly.  I’m still being budget conscious with my choices and trying to get the best value I can.

I then did move on to processor.  As I said, modern processors confuse me, so I started off looking into the AMD chip recommended by Amazon to go with the GPU.  It was a place to start more than anything.  I’ve had a lot of AMD CPUs and always liked them.  They used to be the top dog but I was pretty sure Intel had come back to the lead.

Some Google searching suggested that it’s not real great unless it’s overclocked and I’m not really interested in trying to overclock anything.  It’s not that I don’t think I could do it, it’s more than I don’t want to have to buy another $150 processor when I fuck it up.  One thread I found on this chip had several recommendations for the Intel i5 2500 3.3Ghz.  It’s a Quad Core chip.   I did a bit more research and decided to go for this chip.  Mostly my research was into i5 vs i7, but this i5 is supposed to be pretty decent.  Besides, CPU is less important and I’m going to better value with a good punch.

On a side note, I also am hazy on the details but I also know that more cores doesn’t always mean better.  4 cores doesn’t make this a 12 Ghz processor, not every application uses multiple cores.  However I do a fair amount of Photo editing with Photoshop and I do a fair amount of editing with Adobe Premier, BOTH programs I know benefit from using multiple cores.

At this point I threw on a compatible fan nothing fancy, it was cheap and ranked 1st in fans on Amazon so I bought it.  I also threw on a 500W power supply to run it all.  I have a 500W power supply but it’s got some bad bearings in the fans and runs loud.  I could probably fix it but electricity scares me and I am pretty sure power supplies can be dangerous even when un plugged.

all that was left was to tie it together with a motherboard.  I picked up one from the list of recommended ones, it’s listed as Gigabyte Intel Z68 ATX DDR3 2133 LGA 1155 Motherboard GA-Z68A-D3H-B3 and is very Blue.

So, because it coordinates, I picked up 8 GB of Blue RAM with flashy cooling fins to go in it.

I didn’t need to get a case, I have a very large and nice case I bought last time I built a machine.  it is absolutely boring as hell in it’s designs but that was what I wanted, something that “wasn’t curvy and swoopy and neon and looked like a Riced up Honda PC”.

I’m not showing this thing off for looks.

I also already have some hard drives.  I have a 1 TB that I’ll probably stick in it out of my current machine.  It keeps disappearing from the OS, but I am 90% sure it’s because that stock Dell Power supply sucks and can’t handle running 3 hard drives and a GPU.

I also don’t need a Monitor.  I ordered a decently large LCD a week ago when I thought I was going to be running a different older machine in the office.

Anyway, I’m pretty stoked.  I also went in for the Amazon Prime trial so everything should be here by Thursday.

Procrastination Isn’t Always Bad

I almost always have a couple of dozen projects I’m working on.  These are not projects for work or even household projects that my wife wants me to take care of.  These are personal projects of varying importance though generally of little overall *real* importance.  For example, at the moment I am working on:

– Building a solid automated online streaming radio service.

– Playing through several video games.

– Burning old family VHS tapes to DVDs

– Building a small corner shelf for putting my games and DVDs on in the bedroom to reduce the clutter in the closet.

– Repairing several laptops i have that don’t work.


Anyway, Several of these projects I’m “working on” are continual, like playing through various games.  Others I have not even started on, though I still would say I’m “working on them”.  Some I may never start.  The point is that I tend to think about a large string of projects in the back of my mind almost constantly.

Often when i have “free time” I do something completely different when I should be doing “a project”.  I have a tendency to procrastinate on these things.  Often this procrastination though is good because inevitably, I get an epiphany on some project that makes it extremely simple and quick and it’s the best possible solution.

The latest example, which inspired this rambling blog post involves my home network.  It’s not huge but it is larger than most people’s home networks and it “evolves” much more than most people’s home networks.  Currently, the phone line feeds the cable box thing (we’ll call this the Residential Gateway or RG for lack of  better term though I’m not sure it’s actually accurate).  It comes out of the RG and feeds a router.  This router was put in by the cable guy when he came out to replace the RG when it broke.  The thing is, he left the old router in place (also provided by the phone company).  This initially created some issues since it gave me two IP address sets which is annoying when you’re doing a lot of NAT translations for things like streaming radio and VNC access to half a dozen machines as well as hosting FTP, HTTP, etc.  I also own a switch and a hub, though I don’t use the Hub because "hubs suck”. 

I lived with forwarding all ports to the internal router for a while but inevitably I swapped the Hub for the switched, changed the IPs of all my machines and rebuilt the NAT table.  it was a one time pain but it makes things simpler.

I put the old router aside until I discovered the the new router does not support the older less secure Wireless protocols that my Nintendo DS requires.  So the old router went back in almost exclusively for use of the NDS, whoes IP address I don’t care about.  It also serves as an access point for guests or whatever to keep them off of the main network.

The issue I had recently however involves a remote location in the house in my wife’s office.  She has a PC out there for “office use” and I put a second PC out there recently with a KVM for my “experimenting etc” use.  Currently it hosts Lameazoid Radio, an OpenSIM server, a session of Outlook that is attached to archives of all of my old email PST files and I use it for downloading Torrents.  The main point is, it creates a lot of network traffic.  The problem is, there’s only one physical cable running to the office and running a second one would be a pain.  the obvious answer is, put in a switch.  I could use the hub but I fear the high traffic of the one machine would cause lots of issues for the office computer and visa versa.

I’d pretty much resolved myself that I can afford a 30 dollar switch to throw out there.  The problem is that i just got off of a huge backup with my “personal budget” from buying several expensive items “in advance” and then paying back the budget.  I’m tired of being broke for the past 2 months on my personal budget.  Also, Black Friday is coming up and I intend to have a chunk of change to spend on good deals.

So I can drop money and be short on BF, or i can wait a few weeks and listen to my wife occasionally complain that the office PC doesn’t have internet access.  So I decided to “sit on” or procrastinate this project.

Then I had the epiphany.  I can move the main Router over to where the switch is now and swap them out.  The only thing plugged into the main router besides the long network cable running across the room tot he switch is an old laptop I was trying to project but i can’t keep running anyway.  It can be dropped.  I was going to plug a media center PC into it for Hulu but Netflix on the Wii eliminates the need for that and I already have a long cable running back to the TV area from before the newer Router was there anyway I can use.

The point is, that I don’t NEED it to be where it is.  Then I get my switch back.

The real point is, because I didn’t rush into putting in the hub or rush out to buy a switch, i came up with the best solution AND it doesn’t cost me anything. I do this a lot.  I did it at my old job all the time.   I’d sit on a project until I’d realize I can combine two obsolete items into something useful or whatever.  The point is, sometimes it’s good to procrastinate.