2006 01 29

Base | Lab | iTunes


Brainless backup

I recently had an email conversation with an otherwise happy user of my tip on how to manually move your music files, whilst retaining track usage data in which he mentioned backing up his files.

For one thing it has never occured to me to do that, but that is not uncommon for some other Best Practices that I can often be found beating mere mortals over the head with. What can I say... physician heal thyself, it seems.

Anyway, the conversation prompted me to think of ways in which one could have iTunes help out in this mundane task. Below are some thoughts, which are clearly just the ramblings of a sleep-deprived geek. Enjoy them as such. :)

Option 1: Full backups. For people with DVD-RW hardware or media to spare who also enjoy the sound of spinning burners in the background. (Or whose music collection is ludicrously modest by today's everyone-is-a-pirate standards.)

  1. Create a Smart Playlist that has everything in it. This might be 'Kind contains MP3' or 'Bit Rate is greater than 0 kbps' Whatever works for you.
  2. Burn your playlist to DVD. iTunes will ask you for more media if the file content is bigger than what can fit one disc.

I would suggest you always keep two sets of backup discs and toggle them.

Option 2: Full incremental.

This is basically the same idea as option 1, but by maintaining a Playlist that selects on 'Added after [date of your last backup]', you can save yourself the trouble of backing up everything for the sheer excitement of it.

Option 3: Automatic

Now this is the actual no-brainer I mentioned in the title. Works like this:

  1. Set up a Smart Playlist selecting on everything. (see above)
  2. Limit it to whatever medium you intend to use, say 4.6GB for DVD. (you may have to experiment a bit to get a good number; the 4.7GB on the DVD case is a bit misleading) and do so by most recently added.
  3. Burn away.

What this will do is grab the track you added most recently. If you merely buy a track every now and then or rip the occasional CD, this will result in a stack of DVDs that will have a fair number of tracks backup up several times over, as they get pushed along the queue when new files come in.

Caveats: if you add more than (say) 4.5GB inbetween backup sessions, you obviously miss out on some tracks. Increasing either the size of the playlist (for instance to the size of 2 DVDs) or the frequency of your backups may help.

Also, you may find that one track might be backed up dozens of times, where others exist on only one DVD. That may bother some, but not others.

To the question why you would even consider using iTunes to do your backups, rather than some file-based tool to just grab directories off disk, I would say that outside of niftiness and convenience, you will not have to hunt across your disk to find your files; iTunes will do that for you. Also, creating multi-disc backups is not the easiest thing in the world in some burn apps..

A definite downside is that you may or may not be able to control any form of directory structure on the backup discs, unless you agree to having iTunes manage your music files.

2006 01 19

Base | Home | Steven


Steven Smulders enters world

I am very pleased to be able to announce the birth of another family expansion unit, specifically a son. He was born January 19, 2006 at 04:53am, weighing in at 3350g. (I don't know why, but many people seem oddly focused on these statistics).

Steven can be reached via his email address: steven.smulders@pobox.com. He'll not be able to read his own email for some time, but his parents will happily read any congratulations to him.

At this time, I would like to disclose a decision that his mother and I made years ago already, but have never been able to implement, which is the reasoning behind his name.

Whereas his two older sisters have names that we picked on the sole basis that we liked them, Steven's name has a story behind it and this is it:

In my life, there have been a number of people that (especially in hindsight) have been very influential on me and my life in a way that I still cherish to this day. It is safe to say that neither of the two that I'm about to highlight did so with that precise intention, but that does not diminish the value of the end result. Coincidentally, they share (more or less) the same name. (about which smarter readers can safely hazard a guess)

In no particular order, they are Stephen Shanks and Steve Clover. (note to Mr. Cotton: lucky coincidence, mate. ;)

Mr. Shanks was the person who decided to hire me for my first job in London. Had he not done that, it would be fairly safe to say that I would probably have hit financial rock bottom some weeks after that, which would have meant the end of my London adventure. The total impact of those four and a bit years on who I am as a person and as a professional is difficult to overestimate.

The thing is, Stephen never hired me on the basis of my skills, because to be honest, I had just about no relevant ones. He hired me on what I guess is gut feeling alone. Sure, someone probably signed off on it, but he put my name forward as the guy to get. Furthermore, he has been best manager that I could have ever wanted, just as much as I could wish on any technology-infected worker. Along the way he taught me everything I know about (office) politics, although it took me years more to actually take his lessons to heart. When we parted professional ways, I said I would really enjoy working with him again, which I actually did at a later time. The sentiment still stands.

Mr. Clover taught me drumming through the Music School in Tilburg, Holland. I reckon I can pass for a halfway decent drummer still, although I never did even a fraction of the amount of practice that he insisted I do and I haven't played in almost 8 years. The drumming part of his lesson is not what got him on this honour roll of sorts. (although he is rightfully considered a guru by many very scary drummers)

What got him here is the fact that he turned me on to Blues and Jazz. I don't even remember the kind of music I was into before, but it most likely wasn't worth remembering. My current music taste spans a stupendously wide range and I like to think that it all started with this man opening my (previously glued shut) eyes and ears.

I could try to describe the amount of enjoyment I get from music in general, but it would be a waste of words as I could not even do justice to the sheer scale of it, let alone to anything specific.

Between the two of them, they have had an influence on a very large part of who I am today; a part for which I am thankful on a daily basis in one way or another. Thankful enough to name my firstborn son after it.

Base | Home | Steven


Fast progress

About an hour ago, shortly after concluding that the contractions were not quite doing their job, the midwife was called away to another birth in progress. She left us, secure in the knowledge that it would be some hours before the going got rough anyway.

When Audrey and her mother concluded that things were in fact very much heating up and thus called the midwife, she was actually doing paperwork in her car parked out front. At the same time, I had finally managed to get Nikki to sleep. I emerged from Nikki's room at more or less the same time as the midwfie was rushing up the stairs--just in time, as it turned out.

A quick check (I won't go into unnecessary detail about these checks, but there are only a limited number of ways in which one can gauge dialation, so I will leave that to the readers imagination) showed that the contractions, unproven yet possibly spurred on by a subconcious motivation to not end up in hospital today had resulted in full dialation and we were ready to go.

At that point, things suddenly went reallly fast: blankets, towlets various equipment and rubber gloves appeared and Audrey went to work. Minutes later, she was holding a small human.

Base | Home | Steven


Too little, too slow

The midwife punctured the embryoid membrane (someone who knows what I mean please send me a correction in terminology) about an hour ago. This is common procedure to increase the uterus' attempts at opening up through contractions. However, at this time, the level of opening up (dialation?) was rather below the expected curve.

Nothing to worry about at this precise moment, but unless the uterus decided to considerably pick up the pace, it would become a problem in two hours time. The kind of problem that meant relocating to a hospital mid-delivery. Besides the fact that Audrey very much values giving birth at home, getting into a car halfway dialated is nobody's idea of fun.

Audrey is visibly upset, but we agree that we'll have to take it as it comes. Besides, if there is medical indication that we ought to be in a hospital, cultural preferences do not hold much truck with yours truly. I'm not saying I relish the thought, but we would be getting in a car and that's that.

Base | Home | Steven


Professional help is here

The professional in question (i.e. the midwife) is here and has done some checking. The good news is that yes, there is going to be a birth today. The bad-ish news is that dialation is only 20-30% at most. Meaning: several hours of contractions to go at the very least.

The midwife settles in downstairs with some paperwork (these people must be used to killing time in spades) whilst I take on the unenviable task of getting Nikki back to sleep.

She usually wakes up somewhere between 23:00 and 02:00, at which time a small bottle, a little light massage of het bowels, some cuddling and rocking tends to be enough to put her right back to sleep. Except, off course, this time.

I have tried the usual routine without avail; she's just too awake to slide back into blissful sleep. Being only slightly awake means that she'll fight the feeling of drifting off (the same feeling most parents miss dearly... :). The normal next step up in measures in our household is to take her into our bed, so that she is able to maintain physical contact with daddy whilst lying down. Dunno why, but it is a sure-fire recipe for deep serene sleep in minutes.

Alas, at this time, that option was blocked by the fact that there was a woman in labour in said bed. Not a shred of serenity in sight. So I took her downstairs to pull off the same trick in a darkened room with a couch. Again, no luck. All the while, hours were passing by when I really had wanted to be with Audrey.

Base | Home | Steven


Start counting

Audrey wakes me up, so that by the time she needs me, I'll actually be able to help out. This is not a factor of laziness on my part; I am diabetic and the artificially regulated blood glucose levels during the night make for a really, really deep sleep. Don't ask me why, but it started when I started using insuling furing the night; I used to be a very light sleeper before. Anyway, it takes me a few minutes between waking up and getting up, lest I like to fall off my own legs.

We start (or resume, rather) taking note of the time between contractions and their duration. This 'measurement' is used as a criterium for when to call the midwife.

Untypical in countries outside of The Netherlands, most babies are delivered in the comfort of one's home. This implies that at some point, you have to call in professional help. Given that (in my limited experience at least) most babies are born in the dead of night, it is at least civil to not call the pros before you actually need them.

Base | Home | Steven


And waking up again

I'm still asleep (this record has obvioulsy been backdated--no-one in their sane mind tells a wife in labour that 'I'm just quickly going to blog this'). Audrey dozed off at best, until just now, when more powerful contractions started.

2006 01 18

Base | Home | Steven


Going to bed

We decided undemocratically that the better option is to go to bed and hope for the best.

Base | Home | Steven


Feeling ill

A rather overwhelming feeling of illness is not uncommon for women in labour (I'm told by one) but Audrey has been suffering more than a fair share of it and it's not getting any better over time. Also, the contractions are not coming in a steady frequency (which would indicate a countdown of sorts).

By now, the mother-in-law support backup has been summoned, despite her stomach flu.

We are trying to decide whether to stick it out to the end or go to bed (and to sleep), risking that the contractions whittle down to nothing, implying that the whole process will have to regain momentum tomorrow. (at least we think that it might just work that way)

Base | Home | Steven


Ready to rumble

It looks like things are on the move, albeit in the same sense as global tectonic shift: over time, the results are (literally) earth moving, but within a limited time frame you wouldn't notice it.

In any case, I thought it best to cancel my appointments and attend to Audrey's needs.

To complicate matters, our support backup (mother-in-law) is currently suffering a rare bout of stomach flu and really should not be out and about.

2005 12 14

Base | Lab | iTunes


Overlapping tastes

I share a living space with my wife and family (a concept not unheard of, I guess). For the time being and seeing as the eldest is about 2.5 years old, the children have very little to say about what songs get played. Actually, I make a concious effort to expose them to the full scope of my own taste in music (which has in the past attracted comments like 'stretches the meaning of eclectic')

In any case, the only relevant tastes I need to deal with are my own and my wife's. Fortunately, mine encompasses all of hers.

What I did to create the possibility to switch between her taste and mine, wilst maintainting the cool dynamic of my Shuffle playlist, is to assign meaning to four ratings:

no stars
This track has not been assessed yet for this purpose.
1 star
Definitely outside my wife's taste
2 stars
Possibly inside my wife's taste
3 stars
Definitely inside my wife's taste

For my wife's automatic music playing needs, I use a smart playlist that is exactly the same as TheShuffle, but with the added rule that tracks must be rated two stars or higher.

One nice aspect of this mechanism is that by adjusting the rating, she can influence tracks appearing in her playlist or not. Another (deliberate) effect is that I can codify my unsureness about her liking a certain track.

Last (but rather obscure) benefit of the overall setup is that my main playlist reacts not only to itself being played (in the intened way), but also to her playlist being used, or any other track selection mechanism, for that matter.

Base | Lab | iTunes


Controlled randomness

As promised earlier, I will tell something about the rather elaborate stack of (smart) playlists that I use in iTunes.

First, let me state the Ultimate Goal that started me on this road: to have a playlist that I could blindly use, but that would both be as random as possible, but with a moderate preference for newer (i.e. more recently added) tracks. I got the idea off a mailing list, where someone had his currently playing tune mentioned in his email footer. Someone commented on the appearance that he had but one or two CDs and was apparently listening to them non-stop.

He explained in an answer to that comment that it was merely a coincidence, but not a strange one, as his playlists favoured newer tracks. It was never explained how he he achieved such a dynamic, but I was intrigued to the point of being hooked. In fact, I ditched WinAmp in favour of iTunes the very same day.

Over the course of time since then, I have tried a variety of algorithms, improving and tweaking as I went along. I should admit to trial-an-error, spurred on by the occasional insight, rather than systematic research. In any case, here is my thinking, so that you can either save yourself the trouble or correct my thinking.

The first thing to note is that any setup should be somewhat tuned to the amount of tracks in your database. Not as much the higher numbers, but rather the starting point of someone ripping all five of their CDs.

Second is the notion that to do anything above creating a very basic dynamic involves layering Smart Playlists. This will undoubtly result in a few playlists that you will use and just as many that merely form the building blocks. Recent incarnations of iTunes have a 'folder' feature, that I use, for this very reason, to hide those building blocks, since I will never use them for playing as they are.

OK, building blocks, then.

The most crucial playlist I use is one called 'Recent'. It's 'formula':

  • Match any of the following rules:
  • kind contains MPEG
  • Limit to 2 hours selected by most recently played
  • Math only checked songs
  • Live updating

In English this means: any MP3s that are considered active and have been played for the last two hours of playing.

Next up is a list called 'Exclusion'. The name is pretty accurate: it consists of a list of rules that are all like 'Playlist is not [Foo]. The idea is that in my library, there are a number of tracks that I do want to keep, but that I really only ever want to hear on purpose and thus never as part of any Smart Playlist. I manage this by maintaining a number of manual (i.e. normal) playlists, such as 'Spoken Word', 'Children's music', 'Stuff only my wife actually likes', etc. I find that using membershp of a certain playlist is easier to manage than maintaining multi-value 'Genre' tags. For one thing, I can use the interface with drag & drop for track management. Other than that, the difference is negligible.

In any case, to enable the concept of 'never automatically play any of these tracks' I collect these playlists in one called 'Exclusion'.

The next playlist I have called 'potential', but the name is rather meaningless in the current context. Its 'formula':

  • Match all of the following rules:
  • Playlist is not Exclusion
  • Playlist is not Recent
  • Limit to 10 hours selected by least often played
  • Match oly checked songs
  • ive updating

In English: figure out which tracks I want to hear at all, but leave out the ones that recently have been played. From all those, grab ten hours of the ones played the least often.

Whilst playing tracks, the dynamic emerges that tracks get played, get excluded for some time (determined by the limit in 'Recent') and then re-enter the pool. At some point, however, they are played too often and drift outside of the time limit set in 'Potential'. This is where the size of the library comes in: if you have just a dozen hours or so total playing time to work with (or you aplpy this mechanism to a subset of your library), you should use smaller values. Beware that large values (resulting in playlist with thousands of tracks) require lots CPU resource every time a track ends and mulitple playlists get (re)processed.

Obviously this dynamic is not nearly enough for the demanding bastard that I am. :)

The final playlist (and the one I actually use the most) is called 'TheShuffle' and looks like this:

  • Match the following rule:
  • Playlist is Potential
  • Limit to 54 songs selected by random>
  • Match only checked songs
  • Live updating

The net effect in terms of the playing dynamic, is that over time, the play counts of the tracks in the database levels out. In the meantime, by picking 54 songs (the amount which fills one screen on my laptop with iTunes maximised) out of ten hours playing time at random, I very much avoid repeating patterns in the order in which tracks are played.

The last element to throw into the mix (and somewhat of the reason I add the randomising layer) is that I play the 54-song list in descending order of track time, with the list set to repeat. Because of the 'live updating' set on all Smart Playlists, replacing songs can get added above or below the current one playing. It may thus take anywhere from 4 hours (a typical total playing time for 54 songs) to ten hours (in case the newly added songs are biased towards the 4-5 minute range).

I would be interested to do a study in larger libraries, but I think there is a weak correlation between song length (playing time in iTunes parlance) and genre. My technique thus groups genres dynamically based on that weak correlation.

Base | Navelstaring



Although I normally eschew self-reflection in the form of commenting on one's own posting frequency, the most recent hiatus deserves mentioning, if only because of the sheer amount of time that has gone by since the last time this blog was updated.

Rather than commenting on what happened during this time and/or why I have never gotten around to properly reporting it to the world at large, here is a preview of what is to come shortly:

  • Over the years, I have written a fairly decent number of shell scripts, showing off both skill (or determination to abuse a blunt tool--take your pick) and quite likely some bad habits in shell programming. I decided that I might do the world a service by putting my code online and turning the whole library into a tutorial.
  • On a parallel track, but no less obsessively executed, I have developed an intricate system of so-called 'Smart playlists' in iTunes, to achieve just exactly the right amount of randomness in songs played on autopilot, whilst taking into acount some real-life factors that plague my listening style. I ought to do the world a similar service with respect to that (almost Baroque) system of mine and tutorialise the lot.
  • In a freak combination of the above skills, plus a rather overdeveloped passion for Mac OS X, I have recently completed a working rough prototype of a shell script collection that feeds my iPod with Podcasts, exactly the way I want them. The iPodder family of products, fine as they are, just doesn't cut it for my particular wishes. The details of my setup might be of interest to other people with a similar skill set and/or sick preferences. Stay (i)tuned...
  • Who knows, one of these days, I might actually convince someone of the rather pressing need to inform me of a color scheme that doesn't annoy the hell out of the artistically sensitive. Until that time, I duly apologise for the design of this site. It is always and ever bound to demonstrate the fact that although I can put together just about anything eventually, I am stuck with the creative abilities of a tree stump.

Base | Lab | iPod


I now belong

Today's my birthday and the direct consequence of that is that I am now a lucky owner of a white iPod Mini. My better half not only shelled out for that desirable piece of kit, but also threw in a black leather cover (with a plastic sheet in front of the screen) and a USB charger.

I shall now be entering the world of PodCasts... :)

Base | Home | Nikki


And another one: Nikki

This post is really just a placeholder. I always meant for my blog to be a place where I would record in more-or-less realtime the major events in my life. Alas, at the time Nikki was born, this site had more or less fallen into disrepair. In any case, there was no blogging done that night, nor a long time after.

Real Soon Now, I'll make it up by adding a bunch of backdated entries based on pictures and notes and whatnot.

Base | People


Maarten Engels

A colleague at my current job, who has studied 'Technology and Society' at the same university I briefly attended. He works in the sales division of our company, but his blog shows a wholly unexpected side of him.

Base | Lab | iTunes


Avoid very large playlists

A while ago, I had intermittent but persistent problems with iTunes (on WinXP) maxing out the CPU to the point where the music would start skipping playback.

At first (as I recorded here) I thought the issue was with a USB vs FireWire connection to the external drive on which the music files are stored. Using USB instead of the FireWire surely made the problem worse, as did the fact that the file system was severely fragmented.

So, I defragmented the drive and things were better--but not over just yet.

Really by coincidence, I found out what the actual culprit must have been: automatic playlists that have around 8000 songs each (largely overlapping, off course).

I had about a dozen of those lists and they used the 'Last played' data as a criterium. In effect, after every song, each of those lists would have to be updated. The process of updating involves (from what I can tell from file movements and memory usage) building a catalog of songs in memory, wich then get written to temporary files, which then, in turn, get written out to the XML file in the iTunes directory.

Open that file (or a copy thereof) in your favourite text editor some time. You will find that not just the 'recipe' for your automatic playlists is listed, but also a list of the the actual songs that make up the list. Not very elegant, I agree.

I removed the playlists (they were a mere byproduct of playing around with iTunes anyway) and my CPU maxing problems disappeared.

Base | Career


Starting a new job

After much searching (some of which for soul), I have stumbled upon a position that might suit me. After a very quickly arranged interview, some weeks later I was offered the position.

I will start a traineeship to become (over a period of six months) a management consultant, assisting clients with applying for subsidies provided by the Dutch government.

The job sounds like it will fit my profile very well: it requires a broad, yet deep insight in all matters IT, combined with strong analytical skills to pick the eligible projects out of a clients entire operation and rounded off with an ability to write convincing (technical) documentation to argue the eligibility with the appropriate organisation.

If nothing else, it very easily beats sitting at home wondering how the mortgage is going to get paid 5 months from now. At best, this is the turn in the road that my career has desperately needed for much longer than the latest spell of not working.

Base | Media | Books


Voyage into murky depths

Het Hof Van Barmhartigheid (A.F.Th. van der Heijden)

Het Hof Van Barmhartigheid (A. F. Th. van de Heijden)

This book is the third part of a four part series of books, although in terms of books, it is already the fifth out of seven. According to the listing in the front matter, part 5 and 6 are 'in preparation'. To students of Dutch literature, this may seem as much of a threat as it is a hint of what's to come.

For all the praise and credit heaped upon this author (well-earned as it is), this is not a book that aims to entertain in the modern (or even mediocre) sense. At times, I found it a challenge to hang on to the seemingly endless avalanche of imagery and philosophical excursions, all with absent regard for keeping a story line alive, let alone moving forward at more than glacial pace. In short, this is not a novel for the squeamish reader, both in form and content.

As far as the content goes: be warned that it is an exploration of the depths of the human psyche, taking a non-too well behaving specimen as its center of attention. This exploration takes the reader to low points of behaviour, then merrily keeps on digging well below that level. More than once, aided by the rest of the cast, the text surprised me with yet even worse aspects of what humans are able to think and do, not least to each other.

A very pleasant aspect of the book stucture is that it is chopped up in small pieces, covering wildly varying amounts of story time, but rarely using more than half a dozen pages. Every section is from another character's perspective and has a date noted, in anything but chronological order. Besides facilitating reading the book in short bursts (as I tend to do, using small bits of spare time) it creates an effect like the literary equivalent of a fractal: at first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that you have seen the whole thing. Dig deeper (or zoom in, whichever image you prefer) and you find that there is ever more detail to be found. Best of all: you wind up finding repeating patterns inside of smaller detail.

For those who read literature as a self-imposed intellectual challenge, the book (and indeed the whole series it belongs in) is a worthy choice, best read as part of the set. The casual reader looking for entertainment in the commonly understood sense had better look elsewhere.



Bear in the yard

My dad lives in Canada, rather some way up North. His tales of the local lifestyle often strike as so incredibly far removed from what I am used to back home that it is hard to imagine what daily life must feel like for him. Should you wonder what he is doing over there, he is running a cottage resort called Mattawa Adventure Camp.

One example is that he is building a road on his property. No, not a garden lane, but one which required some 150 dump trucks full of rock and sand to be moved from A to B. The road is located on a river bed slope, seeing as he lives alongside a river, so there are a lot of boulders that need (re)moving. None of that subtlety that road construction in Holland needs: to get rid of the bigger ones, the preferred method is to drop multi-ton smaller ones on top of them!

Another striking example of just how close to actual real wilderness he lives is that his front yard is frequented by wild bears. The image here is taken today. Imagine waking up in the morning, looking outside and seeing this among you garden gnomes...

Base | Home | Me



For some time, I have had a side interest in the mechanical aspects of cooking. More specifically: I just like to cut stuff. Preferably with a big blade.

I will not falsely claim any proper cooking skill, but I can at the very least handle a large knife.

When we moved into this house, we bought (along with all the other kitchen stuff) a knife set which included a large chef's knife. That does the job sort of OK, but I decided that I wanted to take a step up and get me a proper one, so I put it on my (rather short) birthday wishlist.

Here are two images of the knife that I bought from the money and gift certificate I got. Thanks to all who contributed!

Base | Home | Me


Happy 31st, dear me!

Today is my 31st birthday. Last year's was rather snowed under by the fact that I had become a father less than two weeks before that, but this year I actually had the time to realise that it happened.

The thought I would like to record for posterity here is that I am now as old as I can first remember my father being. In other words: the earliest (though obviously vague) memory I have concerning my father's age was when he was as old as I am now. The strange thing is that I can't say that I feel like I'm on the other side of the gap now.

Base | Home | Britt


Britt's 1st birthday

Today, our daughter has her first birthday.

We actually celebrated it yesterday, because Sundays are just that much easier for family visits. For the both of us it was the first children's birthday party, although my wife has all the more professional experience.

Britt had a blast: all that attention and all those packages to unwrap; she must have been unwrapping for an hour straight, after which she moved on to discarding the toys and playing with the wrapping paper. That's kids for you...

We made a good call on giving (almost) all guests the same item off the wich list: megabloks: they're a sort of Duplo, with, similar to Lego several more or less compatible product lines for older children.

We bought a big box (~200 pieces) of the stuff some weeks back and having visited the web site, we decided that this would be the only item on her birthday wish list. Result: a whole crate of the stuff, with only one double set (which can go to Gran's house, since there will need to be toys there as well).

As a parent concerned with my child's development, I'm plenty happy. Lucky for us: so is Britt.

Base | Lab | iTunes


Avoid USB with large libraries in iTunes

For as long as I have been using it, I have been having problems with iTunes stopping playback due to lack of CPU resources. I have long thought that I was just hammering the machine too hard and that it was annoying, but maybe just to be expected. Not anymore.

My music library resides on an external 250GB drive, with USB2.0 and FireWire connection options. Mainly because I keep the USB hub 'n cable spaghetti in a bunch at the back of my desk, I opted for the USB connection, because the FireWire port is located on the left side of the laptop, too close to the keyboard for comfort.

Just acting on a hunch, I decided that since I have been using a wireless USB keyboard anyway, as well as a PC-card connected CD-ROM drive sticking out on the same side, the comfort argument is not valid anymore and that it might be a good idea to switch the drive to FireWire.

The hypothesis is that the high CPU burn of iTunes and other applications has something to do with the fact that I have a ton of gadgets hanging of USB ports. It all works, but it eats cycles. since FireWire is a standalone bus system, it will need a lot less resources. I don't expect a big speed gain, other than what is achieved by not having the CPU clipping at 100%, but it is still worth a try.

A reboot later and I am now due to smack myself on the head for not figuring this out sooner. iTunes' CPU usage used to jump to 90-100% on almost every use of the interface, and then again at every change of song. It now barely gets over 35%. I managed to push it to 65% by having it scan the entire library for new songs.

Moral of the story: if you use iTunes and your collection is of a significant size (which seems to make almost all operations expensive for some reason), avoid USB connections to your storage media.

(note: Apple users can stop their sniggering in the back, now. I know you will have been using FireWire as a first choice anyway)

Base | Lab | MCSE | Servers


Disabled DHCP

Neither of these machines needs to be a DHCP server, since from their point of view, there already is one on the network.

In fact, the DHCP service is provided by the VMWare networking subsystem.

I removed the DHCP role from both boxes.

Base | Lab | MCSE | Servers


Oh, what a glorious sight...

Two virtual machines, running simultaneously, all boote dup in under five minutes. Pity they don't fit side by side on the host desktop, but it still is a magnificent sight; I can't help but thinking about the enourmous amount of complex software that has to work together just for these two windows to do what they are doing right now. (i.e. nothing much)

The NIC icons on both of the machines are constantly flashing; I can't wait to have them up and running like this and to slap a network sniffer inbetween them.

Base | Lab | MCSE | Servers


Small tweaks

Individually, the servers will perform less, but together they should be prevented from pushing the host overboard. So I tweaked the settings a little bit:

  • RAM was decreased to 196MB per machine. Why that number? Because I like it, that's why. :)
  • Both servers are now wired to use the same virtual CD-ROM drive. I assume those drives are configured to be read-only anway, so that should not be a problem in itself.
  • I synchronised the configurations: I disabled all the fancier features of VMWare, like snapshotting and drag-n-drop between the host and the guest.
  • Inside both guests, I decreased the desktop resolution to 800x600. Looks like crap, but I need to save on resources.

Base | Lab | MCSE | Servers


Two on one

After days of sslloowwllyy installing servers, I am now in a position to have them running side by side on the host machine. Fingers crossed...

Base | Lab | MCSE | Servers | Server02


OS Installation

With the newly created bootable ISO a a virtual CD-ROM drive, I kicked off the installation of this second server. Sure enough, things went by quicker than the installation of the first one, but that might just as well be because of not using the external hard drive anymore.

I busied myself with reading about hotfixes and slipstreaming and every now and then entering a few details for the installation process.

I used the same options as for Server01, other than (obviously) the server name.

On several occasions, I got the impression that all activity inside the virtual machine had stopped, only to 'wake up' again when I switched the focus back to the window. Also, I switched back on various occasions when the installation was waiting at a prompt. Not in the least, I was also downloading some fairly large files and playing music through iTunes. All in all, I think these were not ideal circumstances for a fast installation. Nevertheless, it took only a little over an hour and a half to complete, including the installation of VMWare tools. (every reboot takes around 10 minutes, so time does go by quickly)

Base | Lab | ISOs


I created a bootable ISO

This post is really only a placeholder for the result: I managed to create a bootable ISO file from the Windows Server 2003 installation disk, but it has been nothing short of an ordeal to get to this point. I will try to record my adventures at a later time, using the notes below (which you can ignore for the time being).

Nero Express will only take a boot image from a floppy drive, ISO buster can extract everything and then some, but can't create bootable images, mkisofs should be able to, but consistenly fails to respond to what I believe to be a corect command line, MagicISO would probably work painlessly if it would not be crippled to less than 300MB. Undisker did the trick, even though it claimed errors at the beginning of the process.