Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A New Server

This past Saturday, I got a new machine from Craigslist:

Intel Core i7 Six Core Processor i7-4930K 3.4GHz 12MB CPU
Samsung 32GB DDR3-1600 Memory
2TB Hard Disk Space (Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM))
ASUS P9X79 PRO Intel X79 XTX Motherboard
4x USB3 , 6x USB2 , eSATA Ports
UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS
6x PCI Express Slots, 8x DIMM Sockets
Integrated High Definition Audio
Integrated SATA II & III controllers
Sapphire ATI Radeon HD6670 1GB VGA/DVI/ HDMI PCI-e Video Card
LG 24X DVD+RW/-RW internal drive
Integrated Intel Gigabit Ethernet
SONATA Piano Black Mini Tower and 500W Power Supply
No operating system, keyboard, mouse or monitor included

All for $700. Of course I had the machine tested before purchasing it. Since there’s no operating system, I couldn’t really check the 2TB drive, which when I got home, I found it was dead. No biggie. As this machine was going to replace my old dual xeon box, I basically took the drives from there and played the swapping game. My “server” upstairs had 3 2TB drives in a raid 5 which I took out and put into this 6-core box. I took the 4 1TB drives from the dual xeon box and moved it to my server upstairs.

I also had a Samsung 850 Pro 512GB SSD which I then used as the boot drive for this computer. This box screams and is whisper quiet. It boots from bios screen to login in about 5 seconds. As this will be the a Linux server, I installed Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on it. This is a first for me to have a Linux server. All previous boxes were Windows. But since all my work is on Linux now, I figured it was time to do things in Linux. To run my virtual machines, I’ve purchases a license of VMWare Workstation for Linux. This will ensure that my existing VMs just have to be moved to this box and voila, they can boot!

After playing with this box, I knew I had to max it out, so I ordered 32GB of ram (4x8GB) and another 2TB drive. When they arrived, I played some shell game again. This time, 4x4GB ram came out of the 6-core box and moved to the server upstairs. The ram it had was moved down to the 6-core box. So now the 6-core box has 8x8GB RAM. I then added the 2TB drive to the RAID 5. And started the rebuilding of the RAID 5 from 3 drives to 4 drives. I can see that the reshaping will take some time. The best thing about it is that the existing partition is still available! Currently, while the raid is still rebuilding, I’m copying over about 250GB of VMs over the 1gb network to the partition. And my Plex media server is also usable! It is kind of addicting to see such high availability and performance.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Apple Watch

I now have my Watch for almost 3 weeks. I have the sport version with the gold color. I didn’t want to pay extra for just the stainless steel look. A couple of first impressions. First, I don’t like the rubber watch bands. They’re not comfortable and the holes are too far apart for the fit to be that comfortable. So instead, I got the endless loop in blue to match the other gear.

Second, I didn’t realize how quickly I would find the watch indispensable for alerts. It is really easy to check on any alerts and see if it is important enough to take out either the phone or iPad or computer to respond. In my field, alerts are my lifelines. I need to get them as soon as possible, but I’m not always at a place where I can take out my phone disrupt the flow. But looking at a watch is much more socially acceptable.

Third, paying by watch is SO convenient. Paying by phone is cool, but not having to take out the phone to pay is even better.

There are some additional health benefits as it stopped my wife from telling me to get up and walk around. It keeps track of my heart rate. It controls my music. I have yet to take it on a run, although that’s planned. Stay tuned… More coming.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Mechanical Keyboards

As a programmer, my main interface with the computer is through the keyboard. I’ve used many different types of keyboards over the years. My favorite from the old days have been the IBM mechanical keyboards. They were heavy, loud, and required a hard stroke to type a letter. But I loved it probably because I learned how to type on the IBM typewriters. There’s a certain satisfying click to the keys when you hit it. You can tell by the feel of the keys whether you hit it or not and makes typing faster easier.

Although over the years, as we moved different technologies such as PS/2 and to the current USB keyboards, I’ve lost my IBM mechnical keyboards. One of the reasons has been ergnomic keyboards. Finding a good quiet ergonomic keyboard was easier finding an equivalent mechnical keyboard. I remember when I had the IBM keyboards, my roommate could hear me from another room even though the doors were closed and there was quite a bit of space between the rooms. Luckily, I was able to find a good keyboard that had most of the features I wanted and is pretty quiet, the CODE keyboard from WASD. I have the full-size keyboard and I love everything about it. There are only two additional wish lists I have: bluetooth wireless and ergonomic design.

There’s one other thing I really love about mechnical keyboards: the keys are replaceable. Literally, you can take a key off and replace it with another key as long as the keycaps are designed for the type of mechnical striking mechanism for your keyboard. I have the Cherry MX clear keyboard which are the quietest versions. There’s still a bit of a click to the keys, but I’ve trained myself to hit them only as hard as necessary to recognize the keys without hitting the keys all the way down to the bottom.

And lately, we’ve been on a navy blue phase. My iPhone case is the midnight blue case. As are our iPad cases. So I ordered a set of navy blue keycaps for the keyboard. What I’ve learned is that replacing most keys is not hard at all. There are some that are wider/longer such as the backspace, shifts, spacebar and the longer keys on the numpad have a stability bar on them so that when you hit off center, the key does not come flying off. Replacing these keys are a pain and requires a labor of love. It took me about 2 hours to replace 32 keys out of 104 on my keyboard. Most of that time was spent on the longer keys because the stability bar makes these keys so hard to replace. But I love the look and now that I know what it takes, it probably won’t take me nearly as long to do it again. Since I really love the look, it was well worth the time.

Monday, August 31, 2015


One of the things I enjoy doing is experiment, as you can probably tell from the previous blogs. And to experiment properly, I need spare machines or sandboxes. I’m too cheap to invest heavily in cloud services. Even though AWS has a free tier, it really doesn’t have a LOT of horsepower. Or I need access to things on my local network. And so I’ve invested in a virtual machine (vm) host.

A vm host is a fairly powerful machine with lots of resources so that it can run multiple client machines. The client machines or virtual machines act like a real machine, except that it shares resources on the host with other VMs. These VMs allow you to install other OSes without affecting your host. The OSes on these VMs can be anything ranging from Linux to Windows to recent versions of OS X.

When you create a VM, you can decide what resources the new machine would have, for example, how many CPU cores, how much RAM, and how much hard disk space. Once you create a VM, the software creates a bunch of disk image files that contain the VM. And one great benefit of these files is that they are transportable to another computer! You can move the VM for either load balancing purposes or disaster recovery. Let’s say that your VM host is experiencing RAM problems. Obviously the host machine can have all sorts of random behavior. But your VMs need to be running, what do you do? If you have another VM host, you can move the files to another VM or if you’re using a fast network storage, you can just load the files directly. In either case, the new VM host can run your VM without having to reinstall or reconfigure anything!

So if you are like me, explore the benefits of VMs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On to Mac Mini

In the last year, we finally got rid of our plasma TV, which I had purchased back in 2006 or so. I never realized how much energy it was using, but there’s a noticeable difference in our electricity bill. So when I finally went on a rampage to figure out what was using so much electricity, there were two main culprits: the 42” plasma TV and the dual quad-core Intel xeon server. I took care of one by getting a more efficient 52” LED TV. The second I replaced with a more efficient, slightly less powerful i7 workstation that is acting like a server.

In one room, we have a 37” LED TV that had an HP mini computer that was acting like a media machine. That finally died after 8 years of use. Then I switched to an 8 year old laptop and it finally died due to Richard banging at it. After much debate, we decided to go with a Mac Mini. I finally convinced Li that it was more efficient and quieter and more powerful. With the AirDisplay software, it is so easy to mirror our iOS devices to our TV. As yet another way to easily share media content with others in a living room environment. And with the Mini, it is easy to access our central media content.

This experience is why I prefer iOS devices even after years in the Microsoft world and testing Android phones and tablets.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


One of the things I love in our times are tablets. I’ve been searching for a reading device now for a very long time. Tried many of them, HP X2, Nook, Google Nexus, and of course iPads. But over the years, I’ve been moving more and more into the Apple ecosystem. I love the idea of Android and how it is adaptable and has some innovative features. But utlimately, I always come back to the Apple ecosystem.

And now, apparently, so does my wife. Recently, I traded in an iPad Air 2 wifi for an iPad Mini 3 4G. One thing I love about the mini is the 4G connectivity. Use it just about anywhere and I don’t have to fuss with my phone’s hotspot. There’s a very nice feature for linked devices to turn on the hotspot automatically, but it is finnicky. Not always guaranteed to work and it is a hassle to take out of the phone, turn on the hotspot, wait until the iPad picks up the wifi signal before you can use it. Not a great experience. That’s all gone with a device with 4G built-in. It just works as long as there’s a signal.

However, the other nice feature about the mini is the size. It is just more portable than a bigger iPad and lighter. So my wife basically took over the mini. She carries it around the house and she’s taking it outside more too. We’ve noticed that due to its smaller size, the battery doesn’t last nearly as long. They say 10 hours, but it doesn’t feel nearly as long as the bigger iPad. Certainly doesn’t last nearly as long as the iPad 3. With a smaller battery, it also recharges a lot faster.

So after she’s taken over the iPad mini. I’ve been back onto the iPad 3 as a compromise. And today that compromise is gone. I’ve been reading a lot more on this device mostly because PDFs render much better on a bigger screen. My eyes are slowly going too. So I sold the iPad 3 and got another iPad Air 2, but this time with 4G connectivity. Can’t wait to use it as I’m waiting for the syncing to finish in the background as I write this.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Been Away

Yes, we’ve been away. Li and Richard went to China from April along with her parents. I went there in the beginning of June to spend sometime in China and vacation. We all came back at the end of June. And for the 4th of July, we went to San Francisco. We’ve done basically nothing but traveling and getting over jet lag. Jet lag is really hard when going from Asia to US. Something about that direction makes it a lot harder. Plus, Richard couldn’t sleep at night because he didn’t want to sleep alone. in China, we didn’t have that many beds and so he slept with us. And since being back, he’s had to get used to sleeping by himself all over again. Luckily, it didn’t take long for him to get over it.

More about other stuff coming soon, that’s it for now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

To Yosemite!

No, not the place, but the newest Mac OS X operating system. I had recently upgraded to Mavericks, and now I’m on to Yosemite. Why? See this: My work is extremely sensitive to security issues. Security is probably the biggest feature and differentiator between our services compared to our competitors. Of course, with the recent Sony hacks, regardless of whether it was internal or external, security has become an even bigger issue for us.

And so I’m now on to Yosemite. I have to say that unlike the last time I tried upgrading, this time, it went fairly well. The computer didn’t reboot entirely on its own, but after a manual turn off/on cycle, the upgrade went smoothly. So far, I only noticed that Mysql didn’t start automatically. And I had to install a new version of the USB DisplayLink driver specifically for Yosemite.

Here’s hoping everything else works smoothly!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Samsung 850 Evo

Just installed the Samsung 850 Evo 1TB after cloning from a 512TB Samsung 840 Pro, which took about an hour. After cloning and creating a recovery partition, I have a 999GB boot partition of which I’m using 324GB. Performance on the 512GB was starting to slow down. I think partly from age, and mostly from space. Now I’m less than 50% full again and thus getting write speeds of 470MB/s and read speeds of 515MB/s. Not too shabby. Boot up time takes about 10 seconds again! 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

High CPU on Macbook Pro

Lately, I’ve been really annoyed at a problem on my Macbook Pro. I love my laptop. It is one of the most incredibly productive environments ever. The second environment is Windows Server 2008 R2 as a workstation. Both of these environments are rock-solid stable. The one problem, I’ve been having is high cpu usage from kernel_task on Mavericks. I did some research to find out what it could be:

Nothing obvious. I would also close down as many different applications as I could. I thought it might have been Chrome as I’ve noticed an increase of this problem occurring when Chrome would run. I switched to Safari. The problem also showed up when I used zoom. I’ve turned off my camera when I joined conferences. Still the problem persisted. I always hated the fact that this problem ALWAYS showed up when I wanted to use my computer the most. Isn’t that always the way?

I then noticed that the computer runs hot. Not sure why, but my guess is that the video card is working overtime with the computer driving a 30” display at 2560x1600 and a thunderbolt hub with multiple usb 3 devices including another 24” monitor at 1920x1080. The upper left corner of the laptop was HOT. I turned off the backlight on the internal keyboard as I used an USB CODE keyboard. This helps to cool it down, but not enough. So I did the simple thing, I moved a fan over and now the fan is helping to keep the laptop cool. Since I’ve started doing this, I’ve not had the same problem with kernel_task running hot. It’s been mighty cool both physically as well as evidenced by cpu/activity monitor.

The only time I see the cpu being busy is when I’m actually doing something like running programs. And so far, I haven’t been able to keep my cpu busy for extended periods of time. I’m back to being a very happy owner.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dinner with Tongna

Our first night in SF and we met up with Tongna. We decided to go to Stinking Rose to try a variety of foods. We had a tub of roasted garlic, garlic ribs, cioppino, and a garlic crab. Of course it was too much for the four of us. Have to remember that we don't eat that much any more.

Location:Stinking Rose

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Traveling Day

Richard had one last day at school before we had to drive to San Francisco. Here he is celebrating a classmate’s birthday. He just ate a cupcake, which he loves to eat!

The drive up to San Francisco was fairly uneventful. We stopped by the new Tejon outlets and Li’s mom bought a new pair of sneakers. Even though we didn’t have enough space in the trunk.
When we got to Foster City, we had to stop by Marina to get groceries and I bought a honeydew boba drink. I’m letting Richard try boba for the first time. He liked the honeydew drink, similar to the one he got in Newport Beach pier. He didn’t like the boba as much.

Monday, January 26, 2015

RAID != Backup

Today, my raid 10 degraded as a drive fell out of the raid configuration for no apparent reason. That’s what I get for buying a slightly cheaper raid card. I won’t say which one. I do know which one I will get next. I just need to come up with a good plan on how to transition my stuff over. But I am VERY glad that it is a raid 10 set up. As the only thing I lost is some time. I think the computer spent about 7 hours altogether repairing the raid. And NOTHING was lost. So that’s good.

Worst thing is that I also lost a drive that I was using as a scratch disk. Will have to replace that as well. Nothing important was lost, just some minor temporary stuff. Irksome that I lost it, just have to remind myself that it is not a big deal.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A dying technology

Does anyone have VHS tapes? Laserdiscs? Very few people do. Main reason is there’s almost always something better that comes along. The DVD killed both. Bluray is marginally better than DVD, but you had to have better equipment to get the full advantage which made it a tough sell especially during a down economy. Plus it had to go through a couple of years of fighting with HD-DVD. It’s all about timing with consumers.

In a business, you would never bet your company on a dying technology. For example, very few companies are made entirely with Visual Basic 6, because that produce came way back in the late 1990s. And while very popular, no one wants to use an unsupported product. What if there are bugs? What it there are security holes? Who’d want to deal with those issues?

I’ve recently found out that Grails, a very powerful web framework built on top of Groovy, is looking for a new sponsor. Apparently, SpringSource decided that they wanted to fully support their own framework and not a competing one. I’ve been using Grails for my own projects and really like it because it doesn’t require a lot of boilerplate code to get going. Unlike the Spring framework. Plus the database ORM hides a lot of configuration files necessary to get Hibernate going. There’s a lot going for it. But only if there’s active development on it. Unlike desktop applications where the user is responsible for their own stuff, a web application and by extension, the web server is by definition reachable on the web. Therefore, security must be one of the most important criterion for all software running on a publicly accessible server. And if the product is no longer supported, security holes will show up.

That’s why I decided to rewrite some of the projects and move them off Grails. I’m still in the deciding phases of which to move them to. Node.js? Python? PHP? Whatever I choose, it will have to be a very active ecosystem. And fairly stable.

Monday, January 19, 2015


As a technology person, I’ve become used to all sorts of different technologies and can see how it can be applied. I typically forget that others may not see the same things I do. For example, my father-in-law recently got an iPhone 5. It really is a computer in his pocket. It will take him a long time to even know about all the different features, much less use them all. But as with many things in life, passion for something will drive the learning process. In his case, it is the love of music. He asked for my collection of classical and jazz music. And he’s been listening to that all the time in the house with his headphones on. I then ordered a small bluetooth speaker first for us as Li wanted more music around the house. But once he saw it in action, he of course wanted to know how to use it. He thought it was using cellular service to get the music from his phone to the speaker. And I had to explain what bluetooth was and how devices can talk to one another. It is so weird to see that wires are going the way of the do-do bird. There probably always will be a place for wires, but most of the common things will be wireless.

Needless to say, we do have lots of music around the house now. It just isn’t my music.


Lately, I’ve been on a kick to minimize the things I carry. I’ve noticed that I carry around a bunch of junk, things that I don’t need. Or rather, things that I don’t need with me all the time. How often am I going to use that Ikea family card? Or that Barnes and Noble Kids’ club card? And really, how many keys do I need to carry with me. Every little thing adds up to some weight and bulk. So I’ve added two things to my lifestyle which reduces the clutter:

A KeySmart holder


And a HuMn mini wallet

HuMn Wallet

These two products help to eliminate much of the clutter in my pockets. I feel much lighter and streamlined. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting busy

The lull of the New Year holiday season is over. Things are starting to get busy again. Time flies as you get older. The reason is that a second/hour/day/week/month/year is get a smaller and smaller percentage of my life.

Friday, January 9, 2015


With many devices, I try to find applications and utilities that let me choose whichever device I happen to be using and let me get to my media. I’ve suddenly find myself installing iTunes for Windows on my Windows server because it’s the computer I have with loud speakers. it’s nice to hear music without having to have to wear headphones. Although sometimes it is necessary to put on headphones to keep from waking Richard or when it is late at night.

One nice benefit of using iTunes on another computer to hear music is that I can stream the music from my library to the other computer without having to copy the music over first. That’s nice when the media library exceeds 50GB. Another nice feature is the iTunes Match. It finds duplicates! And it is fairly fast. Now, if only I can squeeze my files to fit onto my phone.

Work and Fun

This is my workstation. It’s a mish-mash of various techs. It’s part of my love of technology. But having that technology available doesn’t mean a thing if I can’t get my work done. Of course, it isn’t all work. There’s time for fun and games as well.

IMG 0092

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


We all get too much email. Mail from coworkers, friends, businesses, and most of all spammers. One thing I’ve noticed that when I upgraded to Mavericks, I recovered about 125GB of disk space. My boot disk is a 500GB SSD and when I was on Mountain Lion, I had about 100GB free. And due to trim support, it was still fast IO. And when I upgraded to Mavericks, I had about 225GB free! I think part of it was the spotlight index had grown considerably thanks to the email I get. I usually keep a close eye on the computer just to know where extra cycles are being used. And of course, one of the biggest drains on computing resources was the mail program. Huh?

Why is that? I opened up Activity Monitor and sure enough the mail program was using 100% cpu pretty consistently. What could it be doing? I’m not that paranoid, but I can’t help but think that Apple must be scanning my email and sending them to their servers. But even then, I would see more bandwidth usage rather than cpu. Ugh… At least the email program is free and came along with Mavericks. So I started looking for different email apps. I didn’t want to use the web interface. Have to admit that Google has done a very good job of improving it over the years. It feels like a real web application now, but doesn’t feel like a desktop application. Having grown up with Outlook, I’ve gotten spoiled with the consolidated contacts, calendar, tasks and email. There really isn’t any desktop application like that for Mac. I’ve found Postbox and I’m currently trying it again. I used it a few iterations ago. And my complaint back then was that it was resource heavy. I was quite pleasantly surprised with how little cpu it used when it was just fetching and sending emails. And when I wasn’t using it, it was just idle and not using much cpu!

More to come about this product, but so far so good!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Apple Products

What is it about the Apple products that make them cool and desirable? I think it is the way that they look, but the even better reason for me is the way they work together. As recently mentioned, I’ve upgraded my MacBook Pro to Mavericks. This gives me a way to have both a desktop version of the ebook reader and a mobile version and have the reading position shared between devices, making moving between devices seamless. I also have an Android Nexus Tablet that I use for reading as well. But a BIG problem is that it doesn’t share the reading position. They’re not the same library. I don’t want to have to organize 2 different libraries and somehow keep them in sync. That’s way too much work.

Another piece of the coolness puzzle happens when you have more than one family member with an iOS device. Li has an iPhone and she has my older iPad. But we recently gave Li’s dad my old iPhone 5. Sharing photos and videos is sooo much easier now that we all have access to iCloud photo sharing. It’s really neat to see his face light up he can see pictures we’ve taken almost right away.

For me, it’s also not just the books, but also my reading context in Safari. I was using Chrome all the way. But after running some benchmarks, I’ve decided to use Safari on my iOS devices. For reading continuity, I used to use Pocket and save web pages to it. I’ve decided to switch to Safari on my Mac desktop as well, just so that I can get my tabs saved to the cloud and being able to pick them up on my iOS device. It’s just the little things like that that make it easier.

Using cross platform applications such as Pocket or Evernote isn’t too hard, but saving the extra click or having things done in the background and available to me right away is really awesome and made a convert out of me.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Time Machine

Along with not blogging, I have been lax with backups. Ever since my 3TB USB 2 time machine drive died, I haven’t been good at backing up my main work machine. I have a Carbon Copy of my entire boot drive which I update every now and again, but I don’t have anything for my secondary hard drive.

I added a secondary hard drive a long time ago by adding an OptiBay drive kit from It doesn’t take too long and the videos provide all the information necessary. They even give you a housing for the optical drive in case you wanted to use it externally. However, it requires 2 usb connectors, one for power and the other for data. I previously have an external usb dvd read/writer that uses a single usb port. Sometimes, I don’t get what the designers were thinking.

Elsewhere in the house, I’ve been using Crashplan for my offsite backup. That has worked really well and I’m glad to say that I haven’t had a need to restore anything from there yet.

So finally, I ordered a 4TB drive from Amazon and it got here today. I installed it and my Mac helpfully told me that my last backup was in February 2014. Thanks. The Mac is now busy backing up 608GB worth of stuff (excluding VMs too!).

After this is done, then I will update my Carbon Copy ( since I’ve upgraded to Mavericks.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

SSDs on Mavericks

As I use Mavericks more and more, I like it because of various utilities that required Mavericks. Apple is an interesting company due to its closed door and leave them behind policy. If you’re not on the latest and greatest, whether it is hardware or software, you’re going to get left behind and things don’t work as well anymore. It’s great if your economy depends on new revenue, but it sucks as the consumer because you have to upgrade.

In any case, while people do say that the OS is faster, it started feeling slower for me. Disk copy of large files would take a while and using Vagrant, I can see the transfer speeds of some large file IO would give me 1-10 MB/s. I have SSDs on my system and while the boot OS is more than 50% full, I don’t understand how it could be soooo slow. I ran some benchmark test and sure enough, I was getting maximum of 20MB/s on the boot drive. It didn’t make sense and then I remembered that Apple doesn’t like third party SSDs. So I checked around the Internet and ran across this link ( I downloaded the linked utility and enabled trim. Rebooted and voila! I’m getting faster disk IO again (145 MB/s). Not as fast as a brand new SSD, but still plenty fast!