More computer problems

I posted recently about some computer problems. Well, I’ve had some more the past few days, and at least one of them doesn’t seem to have much info on line, so I want to document it here.

  1. First, Kelly’s HD on her mac died while I was out of town. She had been complaining it was acting weird/slow, and then one time mail seemed to get stuck, so she killed it, and then shut down and tried to reboot. Nothing but a blue screen. I suggested just pulling the battery, thinking that would fix it. Our neighbor does mac support, so she called him, and that was his 1st thought too, but after looking at it, he discovered the HD was no longer bootable. He was able to recover all the data, though with the backup solution I have in place, I was not too worried about that. He put in a new bigger HD, and all seems to be well again.
  2. Second, and the one I want to document for anyone else that may have this problem… I saw on slickdeals a 400GB for $89 shipped, from fryes. I couldn’t pass it up, and as soon as it came, I installed it. I had a lot of issues with the drive on windows XP…. First, I tried to install it with disc manager, and did a full format, only to have that fail at the end. I then tried using SeaGate’s DiscWizard to install and format it, and that seemed to go fine, accept that once it was finished, XP still showed it as unformated.
    I worked on it for a while, called SeaGate, and they said it was likely bad, so return it to fryes. I did that, but had the exact same problems on the new one! I had recently installed Vista on a different partition on the main drive, so I thought I’d give that a shot, and it worked fine! Formatted easily and quickly, and was able to copy files to it. So now I knew something was wrong with my XP build, and I called SeaGate back. This time they were able to tell me how to fix it without a problem.

    Here are some of the errors I saw:

    • When formating from windows xp (disk manager), it just failed with “windows could not format the drive.” Not very useful.
    • When formating from a dos prompt in windows, I got “the second ntfs boot sector is unwriteable.”
    • When formating from DiscWizard, I got no errors, and it looked like it was successful, only XP could do nothing
    • When formatting with Partition Magic 8.0, I got a #514 error.
    • When I successfully formated it in Vista, and then tried to use it in XP, I got “The request could not be performed because of an I/O device error.”
  3. This time, Seagate asked if I had the “Intel Application Accelerator” installed, which I did. Version 2.2. I don’t know where this came from, or when it was installed. I have a shuttle SB51G, and maybe it is part of the driver install that came with the barebones system, or maybe it happened when I upgraded the intel built in video driver. He said that applicaiton is known to have problems with partitions larger than 137 GB, even though I had done everything to make XP handle drives bigger than that. In fact, my primary drive is 160GB, even though it has several partitions, noe of which is greater than 137GB. So I downloaded the latest version, 2.3, installed it, rebooted, and right away, XP was able to see the drive and use it with no problems.

iTunes Stats

iTunes has an XML file that it uses to track all sorts of neat things, like ratings, play counts, date added, last played, etc. Some of these stats are useful within iTunes, to sort by date added, or play count, or ratings. Or to make smart playlists, etc.

For example, I have a smart playlist called NeverPlayed, which lets me see all the music that I’ve never played since importing it to itunes. Since I spent a fair amount of time a couple years ago re-ripping all of my CD’s, I have quite a few songs that I’ve never played. In fact, it is over 3000, but I’ve been letting the NeverPlayed playlist play a couple hours every day, so I’ll get that down eventually. Though I have to admit there are some songs that I probably don’t ever want to play! 😉

(BTW, I re-ripped to standardize. I started ripping CD’s sometime in 2000, and over time ended up with various formats, like mp3, ogg-vorbis, aac, etc., and different encoding rates. I really wanted to standardize to 192K variable mp3, so that is what I did.)

But iTunes doens’t provide much more insight into all the stats then what I’ve just listed. I do use the plug in, so I’ve got stats from when I added that a few months ago, but even that is limited (and I wanted stats for all-time, not just when I added the plugin), so I searched around. I found one called SuperAnalyzer that runs on Mac and Windows. (It’s a java applet.) It provided a little information, but not much. Mainly that I have too many tracks that don’t have all the information filled out. :-/

I also found iTunes Registry, which let’s you upload your XML file and then does an analysis on it. One thing that is neat about this site is that it combines all users’ data that is uploaded to it, so you can see some “global trends.”

I uploaded my XML file, and here’s a link to that page. I did find some interesting info — like I’ve listened to Dar Williams the most. And it gives some insight into how you rate artists, etc.

Anyway, there are probably a lot more cool things that could be done. I’d really like to know percentages like how much a given song, artist, or album, comprise my total listening, or total listening in the last year, or a given month, by song/artist/album/genre, or what percentage of songs are responsible for X percent play time (i.e. how long is my song tail?) Now not all of that would be availble, as the XML file doesn’t keep everything. But some of it would be possible and would be interesting.

Computer problems

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few computer problems that I thought I’d document here. A couple of them were the kind that normally would have sent my heart dropping, as the PC would not start at all! But since I now have a good back up system, I wasn’t too worried. In fact, my 1st thought was, “Oh, it’s about time to rebuild this windows box anyway.” Of course rebuilding is a pain, but it’s a chance to start fresh and get rid of a lot of things I don’t use.

Anyway, here’s a run down of the problems I’ve seen:

  1. pci.sys corruption

    So i installed the “Instant Media” client which promises to download Internet HD videos. Well, apparently my video driver was too old, so I downloaded the latest and greatest from Intel, installed it, and could see Instant Media clips in HD. Great! Well, the next time I tried to watch TV via my WinTV card, it was all garbage. So I downloaded the latest and greatest hauppage drivers and installed them. It failed for some unknown reason, so I tried their “erase all” program. Upon reboot, I got the big blue screen saying the pci.sys file was missing or corrupt. Uh-oh. Trying to boot from CD to do a recover gave “setupdd.sys could not be laoded, error code 4. Uh-oh again.

    Using another PC to search around on the Internet, I found that the suggestion was to remove all PCI devices and reboot, and then put them back in one at a time. My shuttle has only one PCI slot, and that is where the wintv card is. So I removed it, rebooted, all was well, powered down, put the wintv card back in, powered up, and all was ok. The next time I installed the wintv software, it all worked. Problem solved.

  2. Partition Magic and Grub don’t mix

    I needed some more space on my music partition, so I ran partition magic to do that. When PM tried to do the steps required, the pc failed on reboot. Uh-oh! After some searching, I found that my master boot record was probably toast. I booted up with a windows CD and ran fixmbr. I was then able to reboot, but just to windows, as it basically got rid of the grub info. I hadn’t booted to debian in 6 months, so I decided to just get rid of it, though if I had booted with my debian CD, I would have been able to fix it from there. When I finally did re-run partion magic, I got error 1201, warning 1211 messages, about bad blocks and block counts. I just had to again boot with my windows CD and run chkdsk /f on each partition, and then re-run partition magic. Problem solved.

  3. Bad DVD-RW drive

    At some point in all this booting from CD, the DVD/CD combo drive stopped working completely. I had to use a paper click to get the CD out, and then ordered a new one from newegg for about $30. That came 2 days later so I swapped it out, and all was well again.

  4. Bad HD on the old iMac

    I pulled the iMac out of the basement to set it up for Riley. It’s probably been down there for 2 years unused. On boot up, I get a little finder face alternating with a question mark in a folder in the middle of the screen. Called up my neighbor who does Mac support, and he said it can’t find the start up disk. Hmm, the spindles on the HD are probably suffering stiction. I tried shaking the whole imac, but that was difficult since it’s a bit bulky and heavy. I then removed the hard drive using the instructions in the link. I tried to start the imac up with just the power to the drive connected, and then twist the drive hard and fast as it was getting power, but it would not come free. Since it’s just a 13GB, I ordered an 80GB one from NewEgg for about $40, should be here today.

I think that wraps it up, though the last day or so I’ve heard a strange clicking coming from beneath the desk. I haven’t been able to place it yet. It sounds kind of like what the old ISDN link sounded like when it was coming in and out, but I seem to see it when the shuttle’s HD is coming on. :-/

All of these issues have me thinking about what I would replace the shuttle with. I love the big imac’s, but I’m also happy with my 2 20″ dell monitors, so perhaps a mac mini. I’d run parallels and windows on it to get the best of both worlds. But a loaded mini, plus parallels, is getting close to $1k. So building another small form factor PC for under $500 would also be an option. At any rate, I need to wait a couple weeks to see if any of the current mac rumors about new mini’s are true. (And figure out what hte clicking is!)

Storage/Backup Solutions

I’ve been working a lot on storage and backup recently. Maybe I’ve gone a bit overkill, but I thought I’d document some of it here.

First, I had written of the Linksys NSLU2 (aka “”Slug”) before, here. That has been up and running really well. I have all the PC’s and MACs in the house rsync to it nightly, and then the Slug has a 2nd drive that synch’s nightly as well. And then I have a 3rd drive off site that I bring in once a month or so to keep up to date.

One issue with this solution is that my drives are all 160 GB and I’m now 70% full. The slug will handle any size drive(s) so that is not an issue, but it would be a bit of a pain and hard work to set up again. But at some point I will do that. I may just buy a new slug and 3 new drives… I haven’t decided yet!

Another issue is that the Mac’s HD was full. I set up an “archive” section on the slug so that we could off-load files manually to the archive and remove them from the mac. That’s fine, but see the point above about my slug drives being too small. :-/

We also archived a bunch of stuff off to CD’s and DVD’s, and keep two copies, one on-site and one off-site. But with many of the recent reviews saying expect 2 – 3 years out of these, that’s a bit scary. Granted, that is with the lower end products, but even if you buy the higher end, name brand CDs/DVDs, how much longer can you really expect? It may be better to just have two large HD’s, one on-site and one off-site, than keep all the CDs/DVDs…

In addition to all that, I’ve been looking at some of the on-line storage and backup solutions. I would never keep my only copy of valuable data at these places, so it’s only one piece of the puzzle. I’ve played with 3 such services and will write mini-reviews in my next few posts.


is a handy little program that I started using for all of my RSS/Atom feeds. I had been using Thunderbird, but it was a pain (not possible!) to keep feeds sync’d across different computers. I’m so used to imap for mail, which keeps everything sync’d, that feeds were a real problem.

rss2email is very simple to install and set up. It basically polls the feed site for new articles, and emails them to you if there are new ones. I ran rss2email on my old FreeBSD box for a few weeks, and then moved it to my new Debian box. Debian has a package so it is really easy, though I found that when I need to updated one of the components, I had to do that manually.

Basically all you need to do is “r2e add [email]>” where feed is the URL to the RSS or Atom feed, and email is option. I use email with something like “sean+RSS.” so that I get automatic filtering into imap folders… The “+” is a feature of postfix that is very nice. Then you need to use “r2e run,” to scan for new posts. I have this running in a cron job every 15 or 30 minutes.

Anyway, now all my RSS feeds go to my email, so no matter what computer I’m using, I’m in sync.

The only real drawback is that some feeds only give a link to the post. Thunderbird feed reader was smart enough to just load it in to the client window. But since the link is now in an email, thunderbird does not load the link. Not a big deal, and in someways this is more efficient as I don’t open every article.


LinkSys NSLU2 (slug)


I picked this device up for about $90, and quickly flashed the firmware with Unslung, which basically means I have my own cheap little linux box now. You can read more here:

So far I have my Slug doing the following:

  • pc’s and macs in the house rsync to it on a daily basis to back up all important files
  • I have the primary drive mirror to the secondary drive on a nightly basis
  • I run an FTP server on it for some docs, so I can get to them from wherever
  • I run OpenSSH on it, so I can access it from wherever.
  • I run an mt-daapd server on it, which is an “iTunes” server. Basically anyone that runs iTunes in my house on my subnet will see the “Slug Music” server in the list of shared libraries.
  • I run both SMB and NFS on it so the devices can mount it directly, not just via rsync.
  • There’s a lot more that it can do — bascially just about anything a linux box can do. The Unslung version is based on the Linksys firmware and has about 500-600 packages built for it, though I found that most take some tweaking to get to work right. I was tempted to do a debian install, but they don’t have a binary flash pre-built — you have to build your own. And that’s more work than I was interested in taking on right now! At 1st I was tempted to move more to it, such as my web server, or at least portions of it, but I’ve decided to use a real server for that kind of thing, at a real colo. 🙂

Home Network

I think things may be getting out of control. I have way too many devices and too many wires for my home network. At least I recently bought a shelf and moved it all out of a small cabinet, where it was getting too hot and way to cramped to work. Any time I needed to add a new cable for a new device, it was a nightmare trying to figure it all out. So I moved it all out and used velcro bands and twisties to keep the cables as short as possible. It’s still somewhat of a mess wire wise, and it would be good to get several 1′ and 2′ etherent cables.

Here’s a quick picture I took with my new logitech quickcam fusioin that I use for web conferencing/video chat:


And descriptions for each device:

  • Far Left on the floor: Belkin UPS with AVR
  • Top, hanging on wall: Another UPS, this one APC, with a USB into the PC for graceful shutdown.

Top shelf starting on left:

  • 160 GB USB 2.0 / Firewire external driveShared backup storage for various computers around the house. I built this by buying a cheap case and a simple IDE drive.
  • NetGear Wirless access point Used to get wireless signal to the rest of the house.
  • IOGear KVMP I use this to share one keyboard and mouse between the two main computers, my shuttle (see below) and my work thinkpad (not shown, it’s on the desk). I run the video direct from each computer to two monitors, so I’m not sharing the video. I do sometimes add a 3rd PC for short term work, in which cases I will share video on one of the monitors. This device also lets me share 2 USB peripherals.
  • Shuttle PC I built this a while back, runs mostly windows though does have debian on a partition. Had some problems buidling it, with voltage regulaters being replaced by shuttle once, and then having the motherboard completely replaced to fix some weird problems. Runs great now though the firewire ports seem to have a short. :-/

Bottom shelf starting on left:

  • NetGear 8 port Fast Ethernet switchSo that all my ethernet devices can talk to each other and get to the Net.
  • LinkSys Vonage RouterThis gives me a VoIP phone from Vonage, which works great. I do all my long distance and work calls from this phone now, for a low monthly flat fee. It has a WAN port that goes the DSL router and then an Ethernet port runs to the switch.
  • Sprint (Zyxel) DSL routerTo get to the Internet. It’s a bummer, but when I put this into briding mode instead of routing mode, so that my vonage router got the WAN IP, I lost the ability to run mrtg from my Internet server to my home network to monitor bandwidth usage, as the vonage box doesn’t support that. At some point I would like to solve that problem.

At least there’s a little more space. I’d like to add another shuttle type (small form factor) PC to run linux on, and I recently ordered a LinkSys NSLU2, which I will run linux on instead of the standard linksys firmware. Once you put linux on these, affectionaly known as slugs, the skies the limit. I plan to run an itunes music server, and ftp server, ssh, etc. I won’t move my things that need more stability that DSL here, such as my web server, mail server, etc. And then I’ll need at least one more, if not two, USB 2.0 hard drives to connect to the slug. So at that point I pretty much will be out of space.

What needs to happen is all these home devices need to be standardized to fit in a small home sized rack. 🙂