Wednesday, May 15, 2013

HP Proliant ML350 G6 overheating

Well, first post in a long time. This is something that really took me by surprise today and I just had to write it down.

One of our servers, an HP Proliant ML350 G6, started behaving strangely earlier in the week. Users were having issues saving data to it and I was unable to RDP in to see what was going on. I initially thought the problem was an issue with an errant Windows Update, and on restarting the server, the problem seemed to go away, until today....

Users again began to complain of issues saving. This time I was able to remote into the server and was greeted with an error message about improper shutdown. Checking the Windows logs revealed nothing, and it was only when I looked at the HP Insight Diagnostics that I began to see issues about overheating of the CPU. I assumed it was perhaps a problem with the CPU or fans, and went to have a look.

On opening the box up I immediately saw that the spring arm that holds down one side of the CPU heatsink was open and that the heatsink was loose and wobbling on top of the CPU! Of course that was the reason for the overheating, but why and how had that happened? It took a few minutes, but I then found a small broken piece of plastic (see photos) that used to be the clip that holds the arm down. 

Somehow, sometime over the last few days this clip had obviously broken, causing the arm to spring up. 

Luckily although I'm able to use a spare clip from the second, unused, CPU slot to replace it, and that's what I'm about to do. In the meantime if got a piece of plastic conduit jammed in there to hold it down.....

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mac Mini HTPC Initial thoughts

Happy new year people! 

Following this post about using a computer as a source for my high system, I got myself an HRT MusicStreamer DAC and I've been very impressed with its performance. Compared to the old DAC I was using, music sounds livelier, punchier and generally 'better' all round. If you are using a computer to play your music through a hifi, it's definitely a cost effective upgrade and I'd highly recommend it (or the more expensive MusicStreamer 2 +) if you have the hifi to justify it :)

I tweaked the QuickTime settings on my Windows 7 based MediaCentre pc as per these guidelines, but in a back-to-back comparison with a Mac, I still thought that the sound from the Mac was better. So on to part 2, replacing my Windows MediaCenter PC with a MacMini.

I've been thinking about doing this for a while, so had done some research beforehand. To be honest, I really like the Windows Media Center experience, and after years of using it, I had a pretty slick setup that allowed me (and my wife and 6 year old daughter) to easily:

  • Store and play digital music (wmv, mp3)
  • Store and playback digital photos
  • Play digital video files (including avi, mkv, mpg and ripped DVD's)
  • Watch, pause and record freeview and view an EPG
  • Control all of this with a Logitech Harmony all-in-one remote
  • Break out of the Windows Media Center shell and use a Logitech wireless keyboard to browse the web (YouTube etc.)
  • Store and play Apple Lossless audio files using ITunes and my iPhone to control playback
So, the task with the MacMini is to try and replicate and even improve on this.  So far I've got the Mac Mini setup, copied some audio and video files on, installed and configured Plex Media Center, and setup the Logitech remote. It all looks and works well so far, and the plugin repository for Plex means it's really easy to add functionality to Plex (i.e YouTube, Vimeo etc. within the Plex Interface).  I've purchased and installed the Plex app onto my iphone and that is also working well. So what's bugging me so far:

  • I haven't got the freeview/DVR side of things going, and it's looking complicated
  • Every time I restart Safari it resets to the default 100% zoom which is too small to read from the sofa. I guess I could install Chrome to see if that works though...
  • Storage - my Windows Media Center has 2tb of storage, but the Mac Mini has only 500gb. They use 2.5" hard drives which are currently limited to 1tb in size. I could always use an external drive, but this ruins the aesthetics somewhat. I could also use another pc as a storage server, which I may end up doing. Part of the reasoning behind a Mac Mini however was to reduce our power consumption, and adding another PC doesn't really help with that...
Well, that's it for now. I'll keep going with the Mac and see how it goes...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

a Bit Perfect

I'm a Hifi enthusiast, or more accurately I suppose, a music lover, but in my mind the two things go hand in hand.

In my teenage years I worked in a hifi shop and blew most of my wages on upgrades to amps, CD players, record players and even tape decks. After a while though, I realised that as my Hifi got better, the music that I was listening to got worse (I think the all time low was playing a dreaded Simply Red album to listen for some particular symbol crash or something...). So I sold my entire Hifi and all of my vinyl and CDs (this actually paid for my ticket to New Zealand back in 1999).

Over the last 5 years or so, I've been gradually getting back into it, and I've got a reasonable, mid priced stereo Hifi (Cambridge Audio amp, Mission speakers etc.). I've never been into home theatre, in fact I dislike it immensly, but I really love listening to music on a good sounding stereo. Recently, my daughter has started to get into it too, and we have some good times just sitting and listening.

I've been investigating using my computer as a source for my Hifi music. I've had my music in digital format for over 10 years (mostly in 320Kbps Mp3) but I never really thought of it as real Hifi. I've had a Windows Media Center in my lounge for even longer, and have used it for playing and recording TV, gaming, watching movies, and listening to music, but I've never really taken it seriously as part of my Hifi.

Last week however, I went into the local Hifi shop (Totally Wired) and was blown away listening to some digital music while I auditioned some Monitor Audio speakers. I came away with my mind reeling not only about the speakers, but also how I could use my PC as the main source of music through my Hifi. So having done some research over the weekend, I've decided to upgrade my DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter for those of you that aren't familiar with them). At the moment I use an ageing 'Xitel Pro HiFi Link' to go from a USB port on the PC to the analogue input on my amp. I've decided to replace this with an HRT Music Streamer 2 DAC, which has won rave reviews over the past few years.

But the sticking point has come over the computer itself. It turns out that Windows is incapable of producing 'Bit Perfect' audio (see here) which is the real key to getting the best sound from a digital device. I'm an iPhone owner, and I therefore use iTunes (and am one of the few people that seem to like it). I can copy my CD's into the Apple Lossless format and use iTunes (on my Windows PC) to play it back through the USB DAC and my Hifi. I can even use the excellent Apple Remote to control the playback from my iPhone.

But it won't sound as good on a Windows computer as it will on a Mac. I've tested this, and I think it's true. I've always thought that music from a Mac sounded tighter, punchier, even when listening on headphones, and this leaves me with the dilemma of whether I replace my Windows Media Center with a Mac (probably a Mac Mini, running XBMC or Plex as the Media Center front end), or leave things as they are. I've currently got 2 separate audio libaries on my PC, one for MP3 and another for Apple Lossless files. The setup is all pretty slick and after years of tinkering with and improving Windows Media Center, the Media Center is an intrinsic part of our TV, Movie and audio experience at home. So I'm wondering, do I leave it as it is, knowing that the sound quality isn't quite as good, or do I take the plunge and get a Mac Mini, and start all over again?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The IT department works for you and not the other way round

I had a number of feelings when I read this post fromMediaSnackers (I company that I follow, like and respect by the way). The IT Manager in me smarted a little, and I wanted to stand up and defend IT Departments around the world, glowing with pride at the helpful, appropriate, efficient service that we all deliver to our organisations.

Sadly, I don’t think I can do that.
But I can put forward some of my rambling views as to why IT Departments are often seen as barriers, rather than enablers of all of this wonderful technology that we have.

I’m the first person to agree that there are some really bad IT departments out there, and there are some really bad IT people in those departments, often running them. Being an IT person is no excuse for being an unhelpful bastard, but for some reason the industry does seem to attract its fair share of power hungry, self-centred types that seem to revel in knowing more than someone else.
But I don’t think I’m one of those, and I know of lots of other IT Managers and departments that are willing, helpful, passionate and communicative. So why is the IT department often seen in such a negative light?

I think some of it comes down to the nature of what an IT department actually does. We have to manage incredibly complex systems, and make them simple and easy to use for our end users. We have to balance usability with systems that are functional, secure, easy to scale and (normally) affordable. As well as managing the complex technical stuff, we are also often tasked with providing training for our end users. Oh, and because we can make computers work, we are also expected to be able to make projectors, printers, cabling, hifi systems and cellphones work as well. To be a good manager or member of an IT department, you have to be incredibly flexible, and unfortunately, techy people often aren’t.
Throw into the mix that often the people that are really good technically are the worst people to try and explain something useful to the end user. It’s rare to find someone who can code complex vb scripts with their eyes closed but can also explain to an end user why their 500 page full colour print job is taking more than 20 seconds to render to a printer that’s 15 years old, politely. But this is often what IT generalists in IT departments are expected to do, and this is where a lot of the problems stem from.

But the organisations have to take some of the blame. They do need to take IT ‘seriously’. They often want the world, but they don’t want to pay for it. They won’t invest in good infrastructure, good people, and professional development to train the people at the coalface. This often means that things don’t work, or they don’t work easily or efficiently, and then the IT department takes the blame, and gets bitter about it, and then things descend into the vicious “them vs us” circle that I’ve seen time and time again in businesses and schools. This is often when IT departments start saying no and being generally unhelpful.
Time was when a system or service wasn’t running, it wasn’t a big deal, but these days, if a server is down, the network isn’t functioning or (dare I say it) the Internet isn’t working, then a lot of people simply cannot do their jobs. This means that the people managing these departments have a lot of things to consider, and a lot of responsibility. But in my experience a lot of these people are woefully unqualified and lacking in the skills necessary to handle this responsibility. So when the pressure comes on, they respond by saying no to everything. But often this comes back on the organisation because they won’t pay enough to hire good people.

When I have to say no to something (more often than not it’s actually “not now” rather than no) I ask myself if I’m just saying it because it’s something I don’t want to do, or because my experience and knowledge tells me that there are some very good reasons why we shouldn’t do it. If it’s the latter, I’ll try to explain why in a way that end users, or other decision makers understand, without them having to know the in’s and out’s of Active Directory  or Cisco switches, because that’s what they pay me for.
Personally, after 15 years in the job, I’ve come to see myself as an enabler of technology, rather than someone who puts up barriers. However, I’m a ‘cautious enabler’. If I’m asked whether we can do something with technology, as a network manager I have to take into account everything that’s involved – technical, infrastructure, finance, security – all come in to play. By its very nature though, managing complex IT sometime entails playing ‘bad cop’ to some people with some brilliant ideas. If we didn’t, the IT systems (and remember, that word systems is really important) would fail, and then everyone would be pissed off, including the IT people……

IT systems do need to be managed skilfully, and sometimes that means saying no (or “not now”).
Having said that I think we’d all do well to remember once in a while that (as the post says) the IT Department works for the company, not the other way round.
End of ramble

John Driver

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kinect on Windows 7

I bought an Xbox 360 with Kinect recently, my first ever gaming console.

Prior to this the only computer game I've ever had any interest in has been Flight Simulator, but it wasn't just the Kinect games that drew me to the Xbox, it was the Kinect itself. For those of you that don't know, there are a gazzillion links out there that tells you what the Kinect is, but basically it's a motion sensor camera that detects and uses your movements to control the Xbox and the games. Having used it for a few weeks, I can attest that even to a non-gamer like me, it is truly awesome, and hints very favourably as to where the direction that user-interaction might be heading.

But now, I want to be able to use the Kinect to control my PC, and I'm going to use this blog to document some of my experiences with this. I'll start by saying that as far as I'm aware, at the time of writing, this is totally unsupported by Microsoft. They are working on an SDK for Kinect, but I don't think that's available yet.

So to start, I'm going to use some free software called Kinemote to try and get it to work. The Kinemote software promises "Minority Report" like gestures, which sounds cool to me. After downloading 4 pre-requisite bits of software from the Kinemote site, I then register (which is actually pretty tricky as the Captcha phrase box is probably the worst I have ever seen, and is pretty much unreadable), and once I've completed the registration and signed in, I then download the Kinemote Software, and something called the PCD Engine Dev release, which I'm not sure I need, but I download it anyway.

Software Installation
No issues with installation of the 4 bits of required software on my Windows 7 x86 machine (untested on x64).  I didn't do anything with the 'Motor Driver' as I figure this will come when I actually plug the Kinect in. The Kinemote software is also a standard install. When it comes to the 'Palm Click and Drag' (PCD) install, there is a directory with some raw files, and I don't know where to put those, so I leave that for now.

Hardware Installation
Trying to connect up my Kinect to the PC's USB port, I realise the plug from the Kinect is not a standard USB connector, but reading around a bit more, I see that you have to use power adapter that's supplied with the Kinect, which as well as connecting to an electrical socket, you also connect to the Kinect plug, which then gives you a standard USB plug to connect to your PC. Once conencted, Windows finds drivers for all but the "XBox NUI Audio", which I guess I'm not too concerned about anyway.

Configuring Kinemote
I then opened the Kinemote software, modified the option so that to start a session I simply waved at the camera, and tried to start by giving a wave at the Kinect. Unfortunately, I got an error message "Kinect Motor Driver not found, Led and Motor control disabled". The Kinemote FAQ helped me out here. Having sorted that out, I try again, expecting to be able to control the mouse pointer with my hand, but it still doesn't work.

At this point I give up with Kinemote. There's no way I'm ever going to get this to work on multiple teachers' laptops with this amount of setup and fiddling around. Time to look into something simpler, and Win-and-I looks like the next candidate.....