Friday Aug 22, 2008

POFACS Podcast: Home Servers are quickly becoming Commonplace

I remember having talked at a conference 3 years ago and predicting that home servers are going to become a central part of most people's homes. Today, this would not be a surprise, but back then, running a server at home was really only for computer geeks.

Now, the entertainment industry gives us many home server alternatives to choose from: Add 50-100 EUR to a USB disk's price, and you'll get a built in server that offers the space to your local network through SMB, NFS or other protocols. Microsoft has discovered this, too and they're busily debugging their Windows Home Server products. UPnP has emerged as a standard for driving audio/video components over the network from servers, be they beefed up USB disks or some machine running some OS with some server component or a real dedicated home server machine. If you use iTunes and enable the "sharing" piece, you're already running a home server.

Of course, this is all driven by clients. First, people imported their music from CDs into their computers so they could listen on the go and fill their MP3 players. Then, they discovered that running a PC or even a laptop in your living room to listen to your music isn't really cool and lacks that WAF that makes or breaks most living room decisions. Soon, specialized living room clients started to pop up, such as the Roku Soundbridge or the Logitech SqueezeBox. Digital TV set-top-boxes and PVRs like the DreamBox were also early adopters of the home network by either offering TV streams on the network or using network attached storage for storing recorded TV shows. And the current generation of game consoles comes with Wifi and/or wired networking as a central part of their strategy, and they make good network media players as well. Even the traditional vendors of home entertainment equipment such as TVs, Hifi systems etc. have started to adopt some way of accepting digital audio and/or video from the network for A/V Receivers, DVD-Players, TVs etc. My current favourite, for example is the Linn Sneaky Music DS. And I applaud them for boldy migrating their records business to the digital world, in full studio master quality. You can even buy their full music catalog pre-installed on a 2TB NAS storage appliance, including UPnP server!

The current edition of the POFACS Podcast (sorry, it's in German) talks about the various ways a home server can add value to your living room experience, from serving files to your family's laptops, being a backup repository to the more interesting topics of serving music for dinner in a WAF-friendly way or handling your TV recordings over the net so you don't have to worry about noisy PCs and harddisks sitting in your living room. Enjoy!



Monday May 26, 2008

HELDENFunk Podcast featured in "Blick über den Tellerrand"

Our HELDENFunk podcast, part of the german Systemhelden.com sysadmin portal (If you don't understand German, you may prefer systemheroes.co.uk) has been featured in episode #166 of Alex Wunschel's "Blick über den Tellerrand". Watch out after minute 21:50.

Blick über den Tellerrand cover artThe "Blick" is a weekly podcast in german about the "Blogosphere, Podosphere, Web x.0 and user/corporate-generated knick-knack". If you understand german and are interested in how social media is conquering Germany, this podcast is a must-listen. The german saying "Blick über den Tellerrand" means "glance across the edge of the plate", which is the german version of "glancing beyond one's nose".

The hot topic discussed in this and the preceding episodes is about Germany's public broadcasting agencies. On one hand, they get money from everybody who owns a radio, TV or a computer (read: Everyone, like a tax) and they're supposed to use it to create high-quality programming. On the other hand, the current draft of their "Rundfunkstaatsvertrag" (broadcasting state contract) forbids them to use more than 5% of the budget for online media. Their stance in this dilemma is published in the form of a controversial documentary called "Quoten, Klicks und Kohle" which can be loosely translated to "Vieweing Figures, Clicks and Dough".

You and I, but not enough people apparently, know that all media is significantly moving towards online ways of distribution. In fact, according to a study made by Bonn University and IBM, classic TV is losing importance, in particular among the younger generations and may become less siginificant than online media quite soon.

As part of this discussion, Alex is receiving quite a lot of feedback via email, phone and as MP3 files, which is where the HELDENFunk podcast is being mentioned in the current episode.

But who is this "Kontainer Kalle" guy?

Friday May 16, 2008

Detlef Drewanz on Virtualization in the POFACS Podcast

Detlef DrewanzIf you understand german, are interested in virtualization and listen to podcasts, don't miss the current episode of the POFACS podcast.

POFACS, the podcast for alternative computer systems is a german podcast that coveres everything non-mainstream in computing. From people running their business on a Commodore 64 to the state of the art Amiga OS to office packages that fit on a floppy disk or one of the many Linux variants.

There have been a few episodes covering Solaris related technologies, such as ZFS and Project Indiana. Today adds an interview with my colleague Detlef from Berlin about virtualization.

Actually, whenever I listen to one of the POFACS episodes about some crazy new operating system that's being developed somewhere, I've always liked to try it out and see how it is. The perfect way to do that of course is to use virtualization, so you don't have to re-install your machine again. Well, that's where Sun's VirtualBox comes in: It comes with a great range of supported operating systems so there's a good chance it will run even the strangest alternative OS just fine.

But now, let me download Detlef's interview myself and listen to is. Enjoy!

Wednesday Dec 05, 2007

OMG: "Hostile" Takeover of www.sun.de

A few hours ago, www.sun.de has been "taken over" by Systemhelden.com.

"Systemheld" in german translates to "system hero" and that's what this community portal is all about. Visitors of the German Sun home page are now being asked to "honor their sysadmin", because "without his unreached knowledge, his daily commitment to his job, his angel-like patience and a mind-expanding amount of coffee consumption, things would go dark pretty soon." (s/his/her/g where appropriate).

Having been a system administrator at my university's computer center in the mid nineties, I know what this means. I administered our university' proxy server in the beginning of the dot-com boom, and I've had my share of typical sysadmin-vs-luser stories :).

Speaking of which, check out the new series of comics that were produced for systemhelden.com. Even if you don't speak german, you'll understand what they mean...

Tomorrow we'll be recording a new episode of the HELDENFunk podcast and we have a couple of cool things lined up, so stay tuned.

Saturday Dec 01, 2007

Project Indiana in the POFACS Podcast

 

The german "POdcast Für Alternative Computersysteme" (POFACS) has now published their issue #14. This is the third Solaris related issue (and the fourth one featuring a Sun open source project). This time, it's about project Indiana.

Thanks to Mario for choosing me for this interview, I hope I got the basics of Indiana through. We recorded this interview over Skype, but each party recorded their local audio separately to insure good audio quality.

Speaking of recording, check out their issue #13 which is about open source audio recording and production tools.

One question that pops into my head whenever I hear from POFACS is: What is an "alternative" OS? If you look at Desktop OS dominance, then I guess anything that is not Windows is probably a pretty good alternative. I'm particularly pleased that old Commodore 64 related OSes, such as GEOS (POFACS #7) and some Amiga derived OSes (AROS was featured in their episode #12) are alive and kicking.

I guess we're lucky that POFACS isn't looking at the Unix Market where Solaris turns out to be the dominant OS of them all :).

Thursday Oct 25, 2007

Behind the scenes of the HELDENFunk podcast production

Marc, our heroic HELDENFunk producer Earlier this week, we posted episode 4 of the (german) HELDENFunk podcast to the Systemhelden.com site. It includes a CEC 2007 roundup with a pointer to Alec's excellent Futurology presentation, some information on the new UltraSPARC T2 based servers and some coverage of the Team Jefferson project.

Christian Müller, our studio guest in the latest episode told us that Systemhelden.com and the HELDENFunk podcast are now known as a great example of a well functioning "B2B messaging platform" (you have to excuse Christian, he's in marketing...) and he's busy travelling from marketing droid conference to marketing droid conference telling people what Systemhelden.com actually is. To me it's just a nice place for german sysadmins to hang out in :).

To the right, you see Marc Baumann, our heroic podcast producer while he's making sure that HELDENFunk listeners enjoy good sound. And so, let's take a look behind the scenes of the HELDENFunk podcast:

Once (now twice) per month we gather in a small conference room to record the next episode. Marc got us some nice microphones to record with: An Audio Technica AT-2020 for the moderator and two Røde NT5 for our guests. The audio goes through a Behringer Eurorack MX 802A Mixer where Marc can adjust the volume and pan for each individual speaker, then goes to a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 A/D converter (which I already blogged about) and audio interface that is connected to my Apple Powerbook. We use Logic Audio Express 7 for recording (I'm still waiting for my upgrade to the new Logic Studio 8) and Marc uses Logic Studio 8 for mixdown and mastering (he already got his upgrade). Unfortunately, there are no good pro audio software solutions on Solaris, but who knows what the future will bring...

As you can see (and hear), good audio quality starts with good microphones and good mixing and A/D equipment. Still, post-processing is very important. I listen to a lot of podcasts while driving to work and these are the most common things that annoy me about podcast audio quality:

  • Overall low volume: It's such a hassle to have to turn up the volume a lot so you can actually understand what people say, then get yelled at once you switch from MP3 player to radio. Make sure your podcast has a volume that is comparable to radio or normal music. This usually means peak levels of just below 0 dB.
  • Poor audio quality: As said, 90% of a good sounding podcast is using good equipment before sound goes into the computer. Quality matters and the better quality audio comes into your computer, the better the outcome will be. For mastering, we prefer 128 kBit MP3 because it gives you reasonable audio quality (for a podcast) and maximum compatibility with devices at acceptable file sizes.
  • Large variations of speaker volume: When having multiple speakers, make sure their volume is more or less equal, otherwise some will yell while others will whisper. It's hard to adjust the volume while driving to work :). Using a compressor during post processing helps a lot here.

Me, talking to a microphone, trying not to look too silly.For the casual interview, we use a Zoom H2 audio recorder (here's a great and helpful review). This device offers excellent portable audio quality, ease of use, lots of recording options and great sensitivity, even in very difficult recording situations. For example, listen to the final episode of the CEC 2007 podcast (another podcast I was involved with) where we had a lot of background noise, still the voices could be heard nicely. Thanks to the 24 bit audio resolution, we can increase the volume way up for more distant or less loud speakers without introducing too much noise or artifacts. This can be heard during the second episode of the same podcast, where we spontaneously added John Fowler to the round of guests, while he was sitting at the other end of the table, more than a meter away from the microphone. Still, his voice can be understood quite well.

Yesterday, we recorded another interview for our next episode, which will be recorded next monday. With the new two week cycle, we now live in an "After the episode is before the episode" kind of world...

 If you understand german, try the HELDENFunk podcast. It's also listed in the iTunes podcast directory. And let us know your feedback and suggestions by writing to kontakt@systemhelden.com. Thank you for listening!

Credits: Thanks a lot to Randy and Mel for shooting these pictures during the recording of episode 2.

Monday Oct 08, 2007

CEC 2007 in Las Vegas: Podcasting, JavaFX Hacking and HPC Software

Since I've arrived in Las Vegas on Saturday, October 8th, I've been busy with a number of things that are going on at the Sun CEC 2007 Conference:

  • CEC 2007 Messaging:  One of the cool things during the general sessions is the ability for attendees to send in their questions and comments via Email, SMS or Instant Messaging in real time, while the speaker is presenting.  Backstage, these messages are fed into a database. Then, two aggregate feeds are created: One goes to the CEC Message Visualizer, a Java Application written by Simon Cook which visualizes the flow of information in a very nice way so the audience can see where their messages are going. The other feed goes mainly to the presenters on stage so they know what the current questions are and answer them. That feed gets visualized through a Java FX Script application that I've been busy writing over the last weeks.
  • Podcasting: Tune in to the new CEC 2007 Podcast that is going live at this very moment. In the first episode, Hartmut Streppel, Eric Bezille, Matthias Pfützner and I sit together at the Gordon Biersch in Las Vegas (Prost!) while we discuss our plans and projects for CEC 2007, including Service Virtualization and Consolidation, ZFS, Flying Zones, the Message Aggregation Process and other cool stuff. Send me email or call my mobil phone if you want to participate in one of our next episodes!
  • HPC Software: In about an hour, Roland Rambau, Barton Fiske and I will present on HPC Software: Roland will cover the general state of HPC Software at Sun and talk about HPC storage solutions around CFS' Lustre filesystem, Barton will present the Sun Visualization Software solutions and I'll cover the Sun Grid Engine and some information on Sun Studio Developer Tools.
So, have fun listening to the podcast and see you at the HPC Software session if you happen to be in Vegas!

Monday Oct 01, 2007

New HELDENFunk Podcast Episode Featuring 3 Interviews (2 in English)

HELDENFunk Episode 3 pictures 

Today, the 3rd episode of the HELDENFunk podcast went live. And we now have a jingle, too! I'm glad we reached this milestone: If we can bring out three regular episodes of this podcast, we can do 10, then maybe 100...

Even if this podcast is mostly in german, there are two very interesting interviews in english:

Of course, there's much more, albeit in german: Ulrich Gräf, OS Ambassador talks about Solaris 10 8/07 (update 4), we discuss Sun's newest servers based on Intel CPUs, the CFS acquisition, a nice case mod where one of our customers put a Solaris 10 server into his hand luggage, Solaris xVM and Project eTude and much, much more.

In fact, from episode 1 to 3, this podcast has ever increased in length. Maybe it's time to move to a bi-weekly schedule soon...

P.S.: If you understand german, make sure to participate in our sweepstake competition! 

Sunday Aug 12, 2007

ZFS Interview in the POFACS Podcast (German)

Last week, I've been interviewed by the german podcast POFACS, the podcast for alternative computer systems. Today, the interview went live, so if you happen to understand the german language and want to learn about ZFS while driving to work or while jogging, you're invited to listen to the interview.

I was actually amazed at how long the interview turned out: It's 40 minutes, while recording the piece only felt like 20 minutes or so. The average commute time in germany is about 20 minutes, so this interview will easily cover both ways to and from work. But there's more: This episode of POFACS also introduces you to the NetBSD operating system, the German Unix User Group GUUG. Finally, the guys at POFACS were also so kind to feature the HELDENFunk podcast in a short introductory interview. Thanks!

So with a total playing time if 1 hour and 20 minutes, this episode has you covered for at least two commutes or a couple of jogging runs :).

Monday Aug 06, 2007

New Public Podcast: HELDENFunk (in German)

HELDENFunk IconYou might have heard of systemhelden.com in one of my other posts. This is a german community for system administrators and other heroes of IT that is fun to belong to and that is enjoying a nice growth in popularity.

Today, we added a podcast (sorry, it's in german) to this community called "HELDENFunk". This podcast features stories from the Systemhelden.com community, tech news and other fun stuff. In this first episode, we discuss how the Systemhelden.com website is hosted in a Solaris 10 container on a Sun Fire X4200 server at our ISP Cyberways in Augsburg, then Rolf discusses how you can calculate your CO2 footprint out of your server's wattage and he introduces the Sun EcoTour, which is a mobile blog written by a journalist that rides a bike across Germany. Wolfgang Stief is our special guest, he works at Best Systeme and is in the process of setting up Solaris 10 Zones on a Sun Fire T2000 server for GUUG, the German Unix User's Group. We interview another great podcast called POFACS, the podcast for alternative computer systems and we feature Sun's Magnum Switch and a funny video about blending an Apple iPhone in our news section.

Producing the podcast was great fun. We had great people in our studio (Read: conference room...) and quite a few laughs. Thanks to Marc Baumann, we had great microphones and a mixer to record with. My NI Audio Kontrol 1 audio interface, featured in an earlier blog post, proved to provide excellent recording quality. We used quite a complicated setup to conduct a phone interview over Skype but which turned to work quite well. And again, Marc edited and cut everything very nicely so everything now just sounds great.

We plan to publish a new episode each month, so feel free to let us know what you'd like us to cover and what suggestions you might have. Just write to kontakt at systemhelden dot com.

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