Improving Gmail Security

In a few of my other blog posts I have already used the example of Gmail and https to improve security. But I feel with the recent improvements Google introduced that it is time to emphasize security and email again.

Continue reading Improving Gmail Security

Installing APC on CentOS 5 Server

Bigger PHP applications, such as vBulletin can gain a lot of increased performance from running a PHP op-code cache/accelerator such as APC.

Here are some instructions on how install APC on various systems, my personal experience is with what appears the most common: 32bit CentOS 5 Server.

Continue reading Installing APC on CentOS 5 Server

PageRank Went Down

Today I read on vBulletin.com that Google’s PageRank has been updated again. So I bothered to take a look. Let me start by saying that I do care and do not care about page rank. It doesn’t bother me a bit if a site has 1 or 2, or 4 or 6 or 10. But I do like to see my own web sites get a bit of page rank. Inside my head I go ‘yay, others thought it was worth linking to my site’. For me, it was a bit of bad news hehe.

When I started my MrFloris.com web site a while ago I didn’t have an intention to do anything with it. I played with some design projects on it, used it as a sandbox and devbox. No biggy. Then I decided that I might as well use it as a blog. After which people started linking to me. The first page rank update bumped it from PR0 to PR4, which was pretty nice to be honest. I expected it to be 1 or 2, but apparently it was doing good enough to get a 4 (for unknown reasons hehe).

After a while I neglected the blog and focussed on a few other things and stopped bothering with the site. I believe it might even have been down for a while. Recently I picked up blogging again when I closed another site where I posted daily blogs, and moved my MrFloris.com from a shared hosting to the dedicated server it runs on now.

So .. I was curious if the downtime, the moving, and all that has had an effect. It did.

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The page rank now reports back as 2 instead of 4, so it went down. Oh well. A good motivator for me to write more and better blog entries that people like to share with friends and link to on their site. Maybe at the end update it will bump back up to 4 again. We’ll see.

If anybody wishes to link to my blog from their web site, you’re hereby invited to do so. I am sure that will help me get the blog back up to PR4. Feel free to register and post a comment that you’ve done. Or comment if you have a suggestion or general feedback on any of my blog entries.

What Goes Where On My System?

My Mac Pro has a bunch of hard drives right now, and I have been adding, swapping, and removing drives the last few months. It was time for me to get a bit more organized and I think that’s a great tip for everybody. It gives you a much better understanding of what is on your computer system.

You might think “What is so hard about finding stuff on your hard drive”, well .. let me give you a simple example: Your browser might store downloaded files on your Desktop, while you have an OS ‘Downloads/’ folder, or perhaps your torrent client stores it in ‘programs/client/downloads/’, making it a bit annoying having to browse around while a single link on your desktop to your ‘Downloads/’ folder might make it a lot easier for you.

First things first of course, what goes where?

My first drive in the Mac Pro is currently a 250GB drive (called MacHD) which is used to store the OSX 10.5 operating system and the programs I use. Most of the data that result from those programs are stored on the second drive which I called the DataHD, it’s 320GB. This drive has a folder called backup_machd where I store backups of certain files from the MacHD drive. The MacHD drive by the way has a folder called backup_datahd where I store daily backups of the DataHD folders. Since there’s enough space no the DataHD I also have a htdocs/ folder in the root where I have my localhost ‘dev’ stuff, such as a test instance of vBulletin, or the svn build from DeskPro, stuff like that. The MacHD (almost forgot to mention) has a folder called bash where I have my custom coded bash scripts that help me run daily or weekly crontabs to make archived backups of certain folders (among other things).

These two drives, the MacHD and the DataHD drives are being backed up with the ‘Time Machine’ feature from Leopard. I have an external USB 2.0 box with 2x 160GB hard drives. Not perfect, but when I have a bit of extra cash in 2008 I will upgrade these a larger size so I can have bigger backups that go back further in time. These are the only back ups I make of my internal drives. I do not really back up my media drives.

I have 2 more USB 2.0 external drives, but they’re used to back up data for a few web sites. I don’t use them, and the back ups are done automatically. I just check once a month if things are still going ok. But it’s kept separate from my ‘live’ system.

I also have 2 media drives. One is called MediaHD (320GB) which stores my music, movies, games, and downloads. I point all my programs to that download things from the net to this downloads folder, which has sub folders to keep it organized and easy to find. The other drive is called TvHD where I store my purchased TV shows. I really like good tv shows and I watch a lot. It’s a 750GB drive. The drive is split in 2 partitions though. A very small portion is used by Adobe and ProTools as a ‘cache drive’ to help speed up running filters and renders on huge media files. Since there’s over a terabyte of data on the media drives I do not back them up. It’s a risk I am willing to take. I don’t want to hog my system backup moment because it’s trying to backup and compress huge files that I can re-download from iTunes or Amazon.

The Mac OSX comes with default folders for Music, Pictures, Documents, Downloads, etc, but I really don’t use them. They’re useless to me as they are on the Main HDD and I store everything on other drives. It’s a bit of a hassle to change the original symlinks and I just dragged them out of Finder, and dragged my own entry point folders into the sidebar. I also made my own small stack folder which are quick links to all these folders. Making it very easy and quick to use.

My plan for the future is to add a 1TB drive into the system, replacing the 320GB MediaHD one. And use the 320GB MediaHD as an Ethernet network drive. I have 1 port on my router unused, and it would be nice if all systems in the apartment or visitors coming over, can use this network drive. Eventually I also want to replace the MacHD that’s 250GB with a bigger one. And move the 250GB as a dedicated MusicHD on the FireWire800 port. And if I ignore the lack of money in my wallet, I could imagine having the MyBook of 1 or 2TB as external backup drive on the other firewire800 port, for backing up the MacHD and the DataHD with TimeMachine.

For now I have enough space obviously, and there’s no problem making new space either. There’s enough data like old music, or a few movies or tv shows that I won’t ‘watch’ again. Or I could throw away backups older then 6 months.

But back to the topic. On my old PC I just had it where the OS threw it, or that particular program. And it was quite annoying to find it back, or to take the time and organize it. Or just accept that the Desktop is filled with icons. On my Mac now I have things a lot more organized in a way that it is, for me personally, easy to find. Media goes to the media drives, data goes to the data drive. And software goes to the Mac drive.

Now, if anything breaks, I loose either all my Data (which I have a backup of) or my programs (and I will still have all my data after a re-install) or I loose my media (and then I cry a little, but at least I still have all my data). Hard drives are a lot cheaper these days, getting a 500gb for around 100 bucks is kind of easy to find. The Mac Pro can have up to four drives in it. And it takes the 7200.11 Sata2 drives from Seagate which are 1TB. So that’s 4 TB of data! Then there are of course the options to expand over USB ports, Firewire ports, and eventually over the Network on Ethernet or even add Wifi drives.

Who needs DVD burners right?

Here are some pictures of me adding the new 320GB and 750GB to the system (which I done earlier this year)

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Switched to Mac Pro from Windows 100%!!

My Mac Pro arrived, completing my switch from Windows to Apple 100%. I took pictures and threw together a gallery for my friends. (Build using just Lightbox2 / Prototype / XHTML  CSS) Bye Windows, you crappy crashing, data corrupting, poor performing OS. First impression: Boy what good looking, easy to upgrade, high performance, quality machine!

[edit: gallery no longer available]

Rebuilding The Office

Over the last six months I have spend quite a bit of time and money into updating my home entertainment system and my little office. Changes included upgrading my internet service provider account and purchase new hardware, and most recently replacing a few ugly wooden planks with a new, more shiny, bigger one. And there is more to come.

Let’s just call the computer room the office because it is from this room that I connect to the Internet using a dedicated workstation. And with dedicated I mean a computer system that does not change location, unlike the Powerbook which I move around with. I use the system as a hobby-, work-, and game station. It is nice to have a room like this and as work location where I can sit down and dedicate myself to doing work, and not be distracted by other things- keeping it separate from my living room. And if this office space is something I need to escape from I just pick up the Powerbook and continue what I was doing from my couch, dinner table, balcony or even from bed – or put it in my backpack and visit friends or family and Internet from there, or in their garden, wherever.

About a year ago I was on analogue television from UPC, had analogue phone from KPN and a small consumer broadband account from Chello. The costs were about EUR120 a month, and this did not even include the costs for placing phone calls. The Internet connection was around 2 to 4 megabit down-, and about 512 kilobit upstream. The TV had a limited amount of channels and the phone didn’t include any free services like voice mail or caller id. And I needed to save money to pay for increased bills and because I wanted to purchase new hardware like good speaker set or other computer parts, or just something like a whiteboard for the office. Earlier this year the UPC services changed their policy and offered a more expansive but more realistic broadband and introduced free upgrades to VOIP phone accounts and cheap introductions and upgrades to digital TV, etc. I looked into it and realized that upgrading my accounts actually saves me quite a bit each month. Currently I have a 20 megabit down-, and 2 megabit upstream internet broadband account with no traffic limit. Free VOIP phone account and almost 50% cheaper per minute costs for calling. Oh, and the VOIP has free calls between 19:00 and 07:00. And I now have digital TV with 120+ digital channels. All in one UPC account for EUR80 a month. And the costs for calling is around EUR5 if I make a lot of calls during the daytime. This saves me at least 50 a month. And in return I have better services like a faster Internet connection.

From the money I saved I purchase a few new things. Like a Logitech z-2300 THX certified 2.1 speaker set. Which was intented to be used with the Powerbook and PC, but after trying it out on my digital topset mediabox I am now using it dedicated for my TV system. Hopefully at the end of the year I have some money left over again to buy another set, perhaps investing now in a 5.1 surround system for the computers.

The other week my father helped me rebuild parts of my office. I starting with removing all my hardware and furniture, and cleaning the place up a bit. And we borrowed a big strong drill from the neighbors to drill some holes in the concrete walls where I needed to hang up some paintings, a plank and my new whiteboard. We put the whiteboard up and went to purchase the plank and placed the paintings on the wall again. In the meantime we also worked on repositioning a lamp in the livingroom. My two IKEA tables are back in the office again and the computer systems back in place. The electricity has been taken care off and there are less wires lying around and things like that.

The whiteboard was worth the money, I am using it daily now for planning and todo lists and whatnot. If you haven’t bought one yet, get one now. As great as a pen and paper might be. The whiteboard is easy and within reach. Easy to fix mistakes and helps with writing out an idea using different colored markers without running out of paper. And in the end I use Omnigraphl on the Mac if I need to share the idea and make it look pretty. No – some people might who swear by it, not me.

The next step is to actually clean and fix the PC but before I can do that I have to install a secure program on the Mac where I can collect all my passwords etc for reference. Otherwise if I format the PC and I forget to do that I will have a lot of trouble restoring all my access. I use hard to guess and remember passwords for every different login I have. And I have a big list of software licenses that have been purchased online, things like that. Right now the PC boots again so step 1 has been completed. And the Mac has been set up this week with SVN and Apache2, PHP and MySQL behind a secure setup. And the data from my PC ‘localhost’ have been moved to the Mac’s ‘localhost’. However, this week I won’t have time as I have to work quite a bit for vBulletin and my own web site – and I will not be home as much as I am now in the next few weeks, occupied with other events. The finalizing of the office and PC have to wait until the end of the month, unless I find some time inbetween.

I know, all in all it is not much. But I usually only do things in the house when I feel comfortable with doing them, and when I feel I have the time and motivation to do them. Little steps, improving each time, and eventually it will be like I want it to be. And right now I am quite happy with the improvements and progress.

Plans for the future are getting a new computer system as the current PC is breaking down, and 64 bit 4 quad is around the corner and I need a data storage server, and a media box and a switch to improve internal network speed and have access for when more people come over. But more about that in a future blog entry.

When I am done with the whole little office setup and the PC is fixed and put in place I will take some pictures and put them up.

Be well,

Floris