Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Virtual Private Server Can Help You Pick Up Chicks

Well... not really, but that doesn't mean having your own server set up isn't cool. A shared hosting plan is what most people start out with when they build their own website, and for most purposes that's really all they need. The type of sites I typically build are perfect for a shared hosting environment, they're low traffic and don't use much resources.

Despite the fact that I really don't have a pressing need for a virtual private server or VPS, I ran out and signed up for one anyways. It gives me something to tinker with and the price wasn't that much more than what a shared host would cost. The upside to having one is that you can configure it anyway you please. You don't have to build your site around the traditional LAMP stack of Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP that most hosts offer. You could set your server up to run alternatives like Nginx, SQLite, and Python if you wanted. The operating system is a bit more fixed but I was given a choice between several popular Linux distros and I could use windows if I was willing to pay more.

The downside to all this freedom is that a VPS requires a lot more work to set up and maintain. If you don't have much experience working with Linux it's going to take a while to teach yourself everything before you can get up and running with a website. On the other hand, setting up your own server is a great way to learn UNIX. Which is one of the reasons why I am rolling my own VPS server.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Old Laptop and my Raspberry Pi

A few weeks ago I tore apart one of my old laptops.

The original idea for doing this was to see if maybe I could remove the motherboard but still use the case for one of my Raspberry Pi’s.

The idea of a Raspberry Pi laptop sounds like a great way to breathe some new life into an old laptop that has been collecting dust forever. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who buys a new laptop and then hangs on to the old one just in case I need a backup. By the time I realize I will never use my ancient laptop again it’s too late to sell it and I can’t trash it because it’s filled with toxic something or another. Now what?

I suppose I could hunt around for a place that accepts old electronics for recycling. The problem with that idea is that it sounds like a lot of work, and I really don’t feel like driving anywhere just to offload some old electronics. Plus it completely goes against my gadget hoarding nature. I prefer to cling to the idea that all my old stuff will somehow serve another purpose in the future.

Which brings me back to the idea of a Raspberry Pi laptop, the Pi is a cool little system on a chip, but that’s all it is. You need to provide your own case, keyboard, mouse, and display if you want to use it as a classic computer. Once you fully accessorize your Raspberry Pi it’s not such a sleek looking system anymore, it usually ends up being a mess of wires running everywhere. Cramming this hot mess into one of my bulky old laptops would be the perfect solution. Once I remove the old motherboard there should be plenty of room to install the credit card sized Raspberry Pi. Then I could just hook it up to the old keyboard and LCD display and my new Pi would be in business. Rigging up some of the USB ports shouldn’t be too hard and there should still be plenty of room to put in a battery pack to power the whole rig.

Sounds great so far right? Here’s the biggest road block to turning this dream into reality. That worthless motherboard I just yanked out contains the hardware controllers for the laptop’s keyboard and display. External keyboards and monitors have their hardware controllers built into the unit; which is great because that allows us to just plug them into whatever we want without a hassle. Notebooks and laptops combine everything into the motherboard to make everything efficient and to save on space.

Now if I want to use the old laptops display and keyboard I’ll need to find a controller card that’s compatible with those units. There’s a seller on Ebay that sells cards for laptop LCDs but I can’t find anything for the keyboard. Without the keyboard, sticking a Raspberry Pi into my old laptop doesn’t sound so awesome anymore.

At this point about the only useful part I can recycle from the old laptop is the LCD screen, if I pick up a controller that can output to HDMI it will make a nice flat panel display. The screen is really thin outside of the plastic laptop case.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Long Break

Wow, I never intended to go this long without making a update. It just sort of crept up on me, funny how that happens with a lot of things. Part of the problem is that nobody really reads this thing, so I don't have to feel guilty about leaving people hanging.

I have been pretty busy lately but not with anything that I would consider worth writing about. Mostly school, and the posts I've already made about that bore the hell out of me. The plan is to hurry up and finish school so I can have more free time to work on awesome projects. That's the plan, in reality I'll probably just procrastinate, start and never finish a million things, and eventually just play all those games on Steam I've picked up on sale but never got around to playing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Passed another Exam

Today I passed Microsoft Exam 98-365: Windows Server Administration Fundamentals. This wasn't a difficult test for me, this could be because I already have some experience with Windows server, but I'm pretty sure anyone could pass this if they have some basic hardware and software knowledge. Up next is Database Administration Fundamentals that exam seems a bit more challenging but I'm feeling confident that I'll be ready for it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Passed the Project+ Exam

I took the Project+ last week and barely passed. I wouldn't say that the test is really that hard, but the subject of project management is just so incredibly boring that it was hard to retain the information. I don't feel too bad about my mediocre score, because I'm not likely to be managing projects anytime soon and I really just want to move onto something more interesting.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Altoid Tins

Here's my small collection of Altoid Tins

I have a coworker who eats these things all the time. He doesn't use the empty tins, so he asked me if I wanted them for anything, I'm such a pack rat I couldn't resist the offer. A quick search on Google will show you a crazy variety of projects people have used Altoid tins for.

What have I done with mine? Absolutely nothing, besides taking a picture of them. Just something more to add to the list of things that I haven't gotten around to doing yet.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Comptia Project+

The first class I need to complete for my new term at Western Governors University is TPV1 Project Management. TPV1 is the course code and it makes absolutely no sense; none of their course codes make any sense. Which makes it confusing sometimes when their site just gives you a course code and you have to go and look it up all the time. I wish they would follow a logical code structure like just about every other school I've seen.

The thing I do like about this course is that it follows WGU's competency model and to prove competency in this subject I need to go and pass Comptia's Project+ exam. I've already read the Sybex study guide from front to back and feel pretty confident I can pass. So I requested an exam voucher code a few days ago. All I need to do now is find a seat at a nearby testing center. I'm hoping to find an opening Saturday morning next week but you never really know sometimes these testing centers can be booked solid.

I don't know how much milage I'll get out of being Project+ certified. I suspect it's really just going to be resume fodder, a nice bullet point on my list of certs but nothing that's going to open any doors. The exam is really just a primer for the more advanced PMP certification. Now that's a certification that does hold weight, but I'm not sure if I want to go down that road. The Project+ study guide was a little too dry for me, I prefer to focus on a subject that's more tech related.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Western Governors University

Today I start my second term at Western Governors University or WGU for short. The school is completely online. I'm enrolled in the Bachelors of Science in Information Technology degree, they offer other degrees with an emphasis in areas like networking and security, but I decided to stay with the basic BSIT degree so I could graduate faster.

The thing that makes WGU different from any other school I've ever seen before is the self paced nature of the curriculum. Most of the classes focus on preparing you for a certification exam. You pass the class when you take the exam and get certified. You're free to take the exam whenever you feel like you're ready, which means that if you're knowledgeable about the subject you can accelerate your advancement towards graduation.

A big incentive to graduating early is that it saves a lot of money. WGU charges a set tuition for the term and that covers as many classes as you can handle in a term. Theoretically you could complete your entire degree in one term, although you'd probably be doing nothing else during the six month term.

All of this sounds great so far, but the thing that had me sitting on the fence was the question of whether or not the degree itself would be worth anything. Would a 100% online school with a non-traditional program be accepted anywhere? Will employers look down their noses at this type of degree when they see it on a resume? I can't predict how an employer will feel about my degree. I suspect some traditionalists will consider it a garbage degree, those with a similar education background will support it, and the majority will be indifferent. For many places a degree is turning into a check box for HR, they want to see that you have one but after that they could care less. This is especially true with information technology where your experience and knowledge far outweigh the name of your school. That's a big reason for why certifications have always been so popular with the IT industry. The fact that you load up on certifications while attending WGU will probably go a long way towards getting your resume noticed.

What made me finally decide to go ahead with enrolling at WGU was their regional accreditation. They have the same level of accreditation that a brick and mortar university would hold. This means I can always take my degree to another school and they should accept it in transfer. I’m betting on the idea that I won’t have to unless I’m doing it to upgrade to a masters degree.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

New Site Page

I've created a table that lists some of the systems I own. Since most of that stuff will be talked about on this fairly regularly, I decided to devote a tabbed page to this content. You can check it out by clicking on the "My Hardware" tab above.

Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook

Moleskine is a brand of paper notebooks that's known to produce a quality writing product. Not too long ago they teamed up with Evernote and created a "Smart" notebook that's supposed to merge the worlds of digital and physical note taking. The idea is that you do your note taking the old fashioned way with your Moleskine Smart Notebook,then later you can use your phone to take a snap shot of the page and save it as a note in Evernote. Your written notes are saved as a digital photo and Evernote runs some handwriting recognition on your notes so you can use Evernote's search function to find any keywords in the snapshot. You also get a pad of stickers you can use to tag your notes. The stickers are recognized by Evernote so you can look up notes and organize them based on the sticker you used.

Originally I thought the handwriting recognition meant that there would be an option to transcribe the written notes into digital text, but it turns out I was mistaken. Apparently after doing a little research it turns out that is a feature which is just a little too advanced and not accurate enough to be useful. Evernote get's around the accuracy issue with its search function because the function doesn't have to worry about piecing together a coherent sentence. If the software looks at something you wrote and decides there's multiple things it could mean it can just add them all to its list of keywords instead of trying to figure out which word is the most likely word you meant to write. Unfortunately this means that if you want any of your physical writing on digits you'll need to type it up yourself like you would with any other "dumb" notebook.

So basically the Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook is really only smart about giving you a digital backup of all your hand written notes. How useful this is to you really depends on how much you enjoy writing things by hand. Also the other big advantage is that everything you save to Evernote is now in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere from your phone, computer, or tablet. Evernote is pretty good about providing an app for any device you might have.

Below is an example of my first test note.

When I wrote that the original idea was to translate that page into digital text and then compare the two in this article. Naturally I was pretty disappointed to discover that feature didn't exist. Not sure if this was a result of Moleskine and Evernote over hyping their product or me just reading into it more than what actually existed. Perhaps it was a little of both. I really did want this to be a super notepad that would allow me to naturally hand write notes into my computer, and Moleskine really did want my money.

So, was this a wasted purchase? That depends, the Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook sells for around $20 at Amazon, which is really expensive for a notepad, but it does come with a code that can be redeemed for three months of Evernote's premium service. This service is about $5 a month so that technically brings the notebook down to only $5. I said "technically" because the three month code would only be of value to someone who is a fan of Evernote and actually wants their premium service, otherwise your paying $20 for a freaking notepad. My recommendation would be to play around with the free version of Evernote first and decide if you like the service enough to want to start storing your physical notes their too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My First Computer

While digging through some old boxes I came across what I believe is the last remnant of my first computer. It’s a Western Digital Caviar IDE hard drive, with an impressive 2.5 gigabytes of storage. My first computer actually shipped with a 4 Gig drive, so technically this is just an add on component, but still it brought back some good memories. Before I had to use the family computer but this PC was set up in my room, which is a huge bonus when you're a teenager.

Here are the stats that I can remember from “Old Faithful”

  • Windows 98
  • 300MHz Intel Celeron Processor
  • 32 Megabytes System Memory
  • 4 Gigabyte hard drive
  • Generic 2d 4 Meg video card
  • 56K Modem Sound Card Combo

The video card was probably the weakest part of this system, running 3D games was never guaranteed. I can remember never being able to get the Quake 3 demo to run. The modem was also a real piece of work too. That POS would always drop my connection when I was in the middle of an online game.

My dad purchased this computer when I was 14 and just starting high school. I had to pay half the price tag, which I believe was around $700 or so. This agreement came about when I was 13 after I told my parents I wanted to save up my money to buy a computer. My dad, who had a few beers in him at the time, had said that if I could save up half of the money he’d pick up the rest. Motivated by the idea that I only needed half the money, I signed up to do a paper route to raise the cash. This took a while because the paper route only paid around $50 - $70 a month, and it was a real pain in the ass to get up every morning and distribute papers around the neighborhood.

Old Faithful really isn't an accurate name for this PC. The Windows 9X line of operating systems were notoriously unreliable. The blue screen of death was a constant visitor during the best of times and I didn't help matters by always tinkering with things and running various games that always pushed the system to its limits. In fact I think Old Faithful didn't even last three full years before suffering a catastrophic failure. Fortunately by that time my dad didn't make me work another paper route before getting a new computer. We ended up building Old Faithfull's replacement from a bare-bones kit, but I'm going to save that for another article.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

This place finally has a domain

I've finally gotten around to moving my domain to this site. The process looked pretty complicated from the outside, which is why I kept putting it off, but it was actually a pretty simple thing to do. I just needed to create two CNAME entries with my domain register's DNS settings and everything switched over without a problem. Now this site looks way more professional. Maybe I'll start posting things more often.