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Linux Home Theater PC - HTPC

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  • Wednesday, April 21 2010 @ 10:05 PM UTC
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Our digital media collection was ready to exceed the disk space of the old home file server. For the past few years I used a small, quiet, low-power PC to function as the home file server, print server, and staging/Intranet web server. This machine was powered by a Via C3 Samuel 2 processor and just couldn't keep up anymore. Most of the current Linux distributions are not compatible with that processor. I also wanted to get a faster computer in the house to make video transcoding less painful. I decided to solve all of these issues by buying an all-new Shuttle Small Form Factor (SFF) computer to be the file server and also function as our media player / HTPC (Home Theater PC).

Our home network consists of Linux, Mac, and Windows client computers. I bought a Samsung ML-2571N network laser printer for 70 dollars from http://geeks.com to eliminate the need for a separate print server computer. This printer is SO FAST and works with all three platforms. My Linux desktop computer has a color printer/scanner attached to it so if we do need to scan or print in color we just power on the desktop computer. Eliminating the print server functionality allowed me to put the new server in the entertainment center.

Our digital movies and music are now right there with the sound system and HDTV. The new machine allows us to watch full-screen flash video (such as Hulu.com). Video transcoding is about four times faster on the new server than my desktop computer (which I described in My Home Desktop Computer Runs Linux ).

Here are the specs of the new Server / Home Theater PC (HTPC):

irssi + dtach + Droid + ConnectBot to stay connected in IRC

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  • Thursday, February 18 2010 @ 01:01 AM UTC
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My favorite IRC client is "irssi" because it only requires a shell / terminal window to run.  I can leave it running on a reliable machine and logged into the IRC network for long periods of time. Staying logged into IRC allows me to catch up on recent activity in my favorite channels whether I am at home, at work, or on my Droid.

Many people use "screen" to detach from their remote SSH login sessions and re-attach from a different computer.  I found that screen has some quirks with irssi and tons of features that I do not use.  A simpler alternative to "screen" is "dtach".

Here is how I use dtach:

Serial Console Settings for IBM pSeries RS/6000

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  • Tuesday, February 16 2010 @ 10:10 PM UTC
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I like to document things that seem to be harder to find on the Internet than expected. One such piece of information I needed the other day was the connection information for a serial console connection to an IBM pSeries server.

Step 1: Dig around in your server room storage bins until you are lucky enough to find a cable labeled "pSeries Serial" like this:



This special console cable plugs into the front of the server. I used a DB-9 serial cable of some variety to extend the cable reach.


Step 1 (alternate): Connect a DB-9 serial cable (possibly just a standard null modem cable) into the Serial 1 port on the rear of the server.


Step 2: Configure your terminal software (such as HyperTerminal on Windows) with the following settings:

CrunchBang Linux on Acer Aspire One AO751h

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  • Monday, February 15 2010 @ 03:09 AM UTC
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Months after purchasing the Acer Aspire One AO751h, I was still looking for a Linux distribution that works well with the embedded (cursed!) Intel GMA 500 graphics drivers, aka Poulsbo. Ubuntu 9.04 or other distributions sourced on Jaunty Jackalope seem to be the easiest to make usable on this hardware but the situation is still far from perfect.

I gave CrunchBang Linux 9.04 a try and am loving it for a netbook operating system. CrunchBang, known as #! for short, uses the Openbox window manager + conky to provide a lightweight and clean desktop environment. One of the great things about the CruchBang distro is that it pulls from the Ubuntu repositories directly, so the expected huge number of software applications are available via the aptitude package management system. I really like the conky "Super key" keyboard shortcuts to start the main applications such as Browser, Terminal, Editor, etc. See the CrunchBang web site for more info (http://crunchbanglinux.org).

The only modifications I made to the system to help compatibility with Linux were the following three fixes taken from the Ubuntu community wiki pages:

Improve compile time on multi-core Linux systems

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  • Friday, February 12 2010 @ 08:51 PM UTC
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While compiling a piece of software from source the other day, I noticed that my CPU was only at about 50% utilization.  This reminded me that the build tools can be set to execute multiple operations simultaneously.

The CONCURRENCY_LEVEL environment variable is used by many tools to determine the number of concurrent jobs to run:

 export CONCURRENCY_LEVEL=3

 It is also possible to tell "make" directly how many simultaneous jobs to run:

 make -j 3

 make --jobs=3

 On a sample dual-core system, this improved my emacs compile time from 2m36s to 1m31s.


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