Nanikore’s Podcasts – Motorcycling

I have a bit of a commute for my job, so I’ve tried to find different ways to make use of the time in a more constructive manner, and one of those ways is to listen to podcasts.  As I have quite a few on my list right now, I thought I’d break this up into two posts – ‘Motorcycles’ and ‘The Rest’.  As an aside, I’m currently running a cheaper Android phone (a Lenovo Moto G5+) and the DoggCatcher podcatching app. (I did a round-up of my podcasts in 2009 and 2011; a few I still listen to, some have gone away.)  Anyway, on with the list:

Adventure Rider Radio RAW – Out of Canada, this is a monthly panel show, usually running 90-120 mins. of experienced overlanders discussing situations, kit, their books etc..  I’ve not done anywhere near the travelling they have, but it’s often interesting for tips and funny anecdotes, as well as differing perspectives on how to travel for long periods. The same production team also make the weekly Adventure Rider Radio, but this can be hit and miss as there can be a lot of native advertising in some episodes – probably worth a try though.

Front End Chatter – Two motorcycle journalists from the UK discuss street bikes as well as some racing content and usually runs for 60-90mins every two weeks. There’s a lot of light banter and some very decent Q&A in most episodes.

Two Enthusiasts – Two American chaps, based out of the Pacific north west of the US discuss bikes, with a slant to technology and the motorcycle industry itself. This is an extension of the usually decent news website Asphalt and Rubber, and each episode goes for  between 60-90 minutes.

Moterrific – Two American ladies this time make this podcast on a semi-regular monthly schedule, with each episode running around 60-80mins. They discuss areas to ride, gear, and dip in to some of the challenges women face in the hobby from perception, to decent gear, to bike height.

Tabibike Ladies Bike – A Japanese podcast which doubles up as both motorbike podcast and Japanese study for me, where the two hosts discuss bikes as well as bike culture, all the way into food and happenings during rides.  This podcast is a little shorter at around 40 minutes per episode.

So those are the ones I’m currently listening to, but feel free to recommend others.

Over to a Nexus 5 and a Thinkpad E440

My mobile setup doesn’t change very often. My iPhone 4 was three years old in August, my old Core Duo MacBook (2006) died last year, and I was saving to replace it, having borrowed the netbook from the kids as needed.

The iPhone’s button and battery were both on the way out, and the iOS7 mandatory upgrade had slowed the thing to a crawl. Having had a Nexus 7 for a couple of years, I wasn’t wed to the iOS ecosystem, and SoftBank’s LTE based plans for the iPhones all carried big price increases per month over my 3G plan. I shopped around and found virtual carrier Y! Mobile (what was WillCom and E-Mobile, and ironically piggy backs off the SoftBank network) was cheap,  and had the LG Nexus 5 phone for a smaller monthly fee than my current 3G plan with a 3GB cap.  As it’s an unlocked phone, it’ll also make trips outside Japan a little simpler with SIMs, which will really help.

Six weeks on, as a physical device, I like it, it’s very light after the iPhone, and even with the fairly chunky Spigen case, it’s still light but solid feeling. I tend to get a case which will survive well. It feels speedy, but I accept that’s relative after the disaster the iPhone 4 became with iOS 7 (not helped by Apple refusing to let iPhone 4 users update to a secure iOS6 train release after the goto fail fiasco).  There are plenty of reviews though which will do a better job than I could. I do like Android, but you’ll notice I tend to get Nexus devices, and that’s because I like that they don’t ship with the ridiculous carrier and manufacturer apps, and you’re almost guaranteed to get OS updates quickly.

For the laptop, I looked at the MacBook Air – it’s a beautiful piece of engineering, but truthfully, outside of  my 80,000 yen budget (it’s almost 110,000yen with 8GB RAM, 13″ screen but a relatively slower CPU). I looked around at a lot of laptops, but kept coming back to Lenovo’s relatively unsung Thinkpad E design and pricing.

After prioritizing my wants, I got a unit with 8GB RAM, the higher definition 1600*900 screen (matte), and the dual antenna ac wireless. I debated i5 vs. i3 on the CPU, which had an ~8,000yen price differential, but since the only difference appears to be the turbo on the i5, and since this is mainly a movable writing rig, I went for the lower CPU. For a decent review of the unit, stum.de did a great review, especially on the BIOS.

Having installed a 128GB Crucial MX100 SSD, this thing flies with Mint Linux 17 Cinnamon on it. The only issue I have right now is suspend is a bit unreliable, and it would appear to be the continuation of a Linux tradition; in my case it may be anything from the Intel graphics driver, to the lack of a swap space under LVM with 8GB of RAM. Hibernate is fine though.

As for real world performance, I was ripping a CD to FLAC, transcoding other FLACs to OGG format, watching a 1080p video over the N based wifi from my old Buffalo NAS with a few IRC chats, and browser tabs going, and the thing never missed a beat. I think that should cover my average usage.

Physically, it’s really nice, much more solid than I was expecting, and the keyboard is probably the best I’ve had on a laptop. I’ve been a general Linux user for a long time, so it was nice to use it on a dedicated laptop, having kicked the idea around for a while.  It also doesn’t seem to get very warm either, especially near the keyboard, where the old Macbook would get a little uncomfortable after a while. I have not yet tested out the spill resistant keyboard, and don’t actually plan to.

Using the Windows 8.1 the laptop shipped with and the horrific dance it likes you to do through first boot was enough in itself to put you off – really Microsoft, that obsession with linking to an MS account before you can play with your new machine is really annoying, and the first thing I switch off afterwards anyway.

For what it’s worth, if you do want to continue using it, it comes with less crapware than I’ve seen elsewhere, and is easily removed. The fact I even had to cover that tells you something. To cover performance, the machine is very snappy in Windows 8.1, and I had no problems with it, even though it was running through a 5400rpm HDD.

In the six weeks I’ve had it, I’ve taken it on an international trip, and it performed excellently, even if it is a little bulkier than a more expensive ultrabook. I’ve dragged it around the house, sat in the park with it, and generally lugged it about, and it’s done exactly what I wanted from it.

So there we are, that should be me done for several more years. Also, this is not an Apple vs. Linux vs. Google thing. Brand loyalty is a silly thing, you should buy on your needs and your available money. For me the Nexus and the E440 are exactly what I need for the foreseeable future, and whilst I like the alternatives, they don’t represent good value for money to me.

[Fixed for me] Mac rebooting during sleep

Posting this in case it can save someone else some time:

It all started so innocently. I’d bought a Logitech wireless mouse (an M325)  for my wife’s Mac Mini and put the tiny receiver into the keyboard USB port for proximity, because I never use those ports. It seemed to work fine and also reduced the number of cables on my rather cluttered desk.

A couple of days later, whilst I was playing Minecraft on my Windows box, I noticed that the Mac Mini was unexpectedly rebooting, so I trawled the Macs logs in the Console.app, and found an odd error message regarding a sleep issue. It wasn’t a one off either – in one evening it had rebooted and actually shutdown three times.

9/24/14 11:35:04.000 PM kernel[0]: Sleep failure code 0x00000000 0x1f006900

I read around on the net about that message, and what it could be related to, and it seemed that some people were having similar issues and suspected USB devices, especially drives, such as for Time Machine, as the culprit.

Of course, the first thing you check for should be recent changes, and there had been some Apple patches go in, but I decided to test the Time Machine USB drive theory first (almost dismissing the new mouse!). In summary:

– Removed Time Machine drive – same problem.
– Removed the Logitech mouse dongle, but crucially, put the old known good basic Microsoft mouse in that same keyboard USB port (previously it was plugged into the rear of the Mini) – same problem.
– Tested disabling sleep to confirm it was sleep related, and yes, confirmed that there was no problem with no sleep.
– Finally, decided to plug the Logitech dongle into the USB hub attached to the mac – and yes, all was fine, no sleep problem anymore.

It would seem that keyboard port does not like USB HID devices.

The bottom line: never dismiss any change, and never underestimate the weird things which can cause issues.

Nexus 7 as a laptop?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of my Nexus 7. Recently I wanted to do more writing on it, so I picked up a cheap BlueTooth keyboard from Anker and yes, I know it’s chunky, but it’s very decent to type on, and gets a lot from its two AA batteries.

This made it much more usable as an input system, but somehow I now wanted to use a mouse as a pointer instead of leaning in to touch the screen from the keyboard sit-back position, and then I remembered I bought a USB OTG cable a while back to play with USB stick file systems on a rooted system. On a normal Nexus 7, you can’t use it for bulk storage, but it does work for a mouse, even an old Microsoft mouse you bought a decade ago in a bargain basement in Akiba.

The Android system is surprisingly navigable from a keyboard, and the mouse makes it pretty much like a laptop, albeit with limited right-click. Yes, I know I’ve negated much of the point of having a tablet over a laptop, but this was a cheap conversion, and I only need to take the parts I want.

Nexus 7 as laptop

Leaving Product: Microsoft Technet

Actually, to be more accurate, Microsoft is retiring it’s venerable TechNet, with renewal only available until the end of August 2013 for one final year. Mine was actually due for renewal this month for one last time, but I’ve decided to bite the bullet and not renew. It used to cost ~ 20,000yen to start, and 16,000yen to renew, so that’s [sort of] saved.

TechNet [Standard] was a way people in the IT business could get a massive range of Microsoft products to install, test, break and generally play with and get to understand, all at a reasonable price. The caveat: no production use – should really be for lab and test setups.

I started mine in 2010 and have used it a lot for learning bits about aspects of Windows and other MS products I didn’t know about, and trying to get time with systems I would never have otherwise been able to touch, or have reason to use.

Microsoft hasn’t definitively stated a reason they’ve retired it, but many things point to, if not piracy, at least abuse of the system. Some sites, including reputable places like LifeHacker had suggested Technet Standard as a cheap way to get all your software. Over the years then, Microsoft had dropped the number of licenses per application/OS, from 10 to 2, and whereas previously the EULA said the licenses for installs would work after a subscription had ended – that’s no longer the case. That does point a finger in the general direction of abuse in some ways

I actually asked Technet support how long my installs would work after my July 31st finish date, and all they would say was that I was required to remove all Technet subscription software by the end date. That’s fine.

The only long term installs I had was a Windows 8 Pro box, and a recent Server 2012 server I was using on my home server to play with Storage Spaces, both of which I’ve already rebuilt – the former with a Windows 8 Standard license I bought, and the server with a GNU/Linux Mint install, using LVM to replace Storage Spaces.

Microsoft has said that many wont need Technet going forwards, since their 30-90 trials should be enough. Given that many of my installs were VMs, that sounds fine to me, and since it’s taken very little effort for me to get off Technet, I don’t have too negative a view of it.

However, I can understand a lot of IT Pros, small businesses and such  feeling a bit annoyed by this by this – the Action Pack  may be an option for some, but a full blown MSDN license is likely to be too expensive, and rebuilding machines every 90 days may be a burden (if it can’t be scripted). We’ll see.

It’s possible Microsoft’s shift to cloud offerings means these small system builders and integrators will no longer be needed by the mothership – don’t build an Exchange server, use Outlook.com, don’t have a file server, use SkyDrive Pro and so on. I can see it, but what with Microsoft’s erratic view of it’s customers of late, and that most TechNet users were the people who build for end users it may cause some ill will, but what would their alternatives be? Suddenly offer Open Source alternatives?  That’s a lot of retraining.

For me then, not much change, except I have to get the time limited versions, so I can no longer tinker when I have time with a VM as I used to. A good thing is that it’s putting me back into GNU/Linux for servers again, and that’s already been fun – it’s been a while.

Home Server and Storage

I need to address my home storage capacity problem. For a while I’ve been using a single disk 2TB Buffalo home NAS with an old 1TB drive attached over USB to back the more important folders up as a local archive. (I should say that all my important family data is on my Mac, which is Time Machine’d locally and has offsite backups via CrashPlan.)

That NAS has filled up with family video and photo backups, my enthusiastic GoPro footage, sound recordings, rips of my DVD and music collection (as FLAC), and so space has run out.

I decided I wanted to spec something that would last for a few more years and decided that:

  • It had to be reliable and quiet, even if it was going in a cupboard.
  • If the system failed, I needed a decent chance of getting my data back.
  • I needed 4TB of space, with a local 1:1 copy of that – that’s 8TB of space total.
  • I needed to be able to Crashplan/other internet backup it offsite.
  • It was going to be on a budget!

There are lots of ways to approach this issue. For example – a simple way is to buy a big drive or drive array and attach via USB to a current machine. I like the idea, but it means I need that machine to be on, or in sleep mode, all the time, which is something I wanted to avoid.

Another solution is a home NAS like my existing one. These go from single drive units up to 5 drive and above RAID systems. They are relatively cost effective, but when they die, you’re often stuck trying to find the same model to use to get data back, and since many are embedded Linux, if it dies, your only real chance is to hook up what’s left to another unit and hope.

Another option: an old style home server. Essentially it’s a PC, with a lot of drives and that’s it. After spending time reading reviews, especially at Silent PC Review for quieter parts and considerations, and kakaku.com for pricing (I live near Tokyo so I’m spoiled for PC parts at retail) I came up with the following:

Case: I looked through SPCR’s recommended cases, and saw the Fractal Design Refine R3 – the R4 had recently been released. I looked at one, and some of the competition, and decided to give it a try. One minor note, I got the ‘Arctic’ white one so it wouldn’t stand out as much where I was going to place it, and since this thing is heavy, I bought it from Amazon Japan for pretty much what I would have paid in Akiba, but without having to carry it home on the train.  Mounting components is simple, and it comes with plenty of brackets and rubber washers to help isolate vibration from hard drives.

Motherboard and CPU: In my price range AMD have some good chips, but so do Intel.  I was looking at the AMD A6-5400K APU, and the Pentium G2020 – yes, a Pentium, but based on the new Ivy Bridge core – this part is lobotomised though, and only has Intel HD graphics, but for what I wanted, it would do. Then I looked at the mobos – either Intel’s 1155 socket based, or AMD’s FM2. In nearly all cases, the AMD chipsets had 5-6 SATA3 connectors, whilst the Intel ones had only 2. That was the deal breaker for me – I wanted to make sure the machine would have as much SATA 6Gb capacity as possible for the future, so I went with the AMD combo.  I chose an ATX board from ASRock, which have always treated me well, and between the two I’d have everything built in.

Drives: For the OS I picked up a Samsung 840 SSD in 120GB – I wanted a fast OS disc to get the machine up from whatever sleep / reboots it had to do. Also, it would mean a cooler, quieter machine.  For storage I went for 4 * 2TB discs – Western Digital Green – these are the only thing that I wonder about, as there are some stories about the Green drives not withstanding this kind of role. That said, I’ve been using them aggressively for years and not had an issue. We’ll see.

Memory: Corsair XMS3 in 2 * 4GB – nothing special, but a decent brand.

Power Supply: I like the Antec units, and thanks to a sale, I got an Antec EarthWatts platinum 450W power supply for a good price.

So that’s the hardware

For Operating System, I was actually planning to go with Linux, but since I have an MS Technet account, I decided to give Microsoft Server 2012 a run and it’d give me an excuse to spend some time with it. One thing I liked about a Windows solution was that I could use Storage Spaces, which allows Windows to group physical discs as virtual discs, meaning I could buy cheaper smaller disks and let the system see them as a single larger disc. This doesn’t buy safety against drive failure, so the other discs made an identical space, and used Windows Backup Service to do a nightly copy. The benefit here is that if the OS dies, or the machine is unusable, as all meta data is in the Space, you can hook the same two discs (in my case) up to a Windows 8 box, or a rebuilt Server 2012 box, and still use the discs. I decided to to try this, and built the system up on Server 2012 Essentials (the old home server plus small business server) but then rebuilt it on Server 2012 base, and it saw the Storage Spaces no problem, so I’m relatively happy that’ll work in a disaster scenario.

Finally, as it’s Windows, I can run Crashplan on it as normal and have that extra offsite backup mode.

[Update: August 2013 – Just a couple of months later, MS killed Technet, so I’ve happily rebuilt this with Mint Linux 15 (into text runlevel) using LVM over StorageSpaces. Crashplan still runs superbly.]

For scale, 2 * 4TB Buffalo NAS cost around 66,000yen (~420GBP/~640USD). This machine came in  a bit more expensive, around 74,000yen (with 32,000en of that being the 4 WD drives!).

In practice, after a month of usage, it’s been a great success – it’s fast and reliable, sleeps well and even when on generates very little noise, so I think I managed to hit all of my goals.

Leaving Product: Google (?)

I use e-mail a lot. I know it’s not as cool to talk about in these social website times, but the truth is, I do like to correspond with friends and groups of friends, via good old e-mail.

I have two types of account – I have my ‘web company’ accounts – Gmail, MS Outlook, Yahoo for those company’s services, and for dumping signups into. Then I have a couple of accounts for myself and family members based on my own domain names where we communicate with friends and family.

I started using these domain named accounts about 8 years ago, settling on IMAP, and moving away from ISP based addresses and even from the above mentioned webmail apps.

For a while, they were based on Pair.com’s SquirrelMail implementation, and that was fine, but we’d sometimes see odd issues now and then. I looked around, and at the end of 2009, as I blogged, I moved to Google Apps. In those days, Google Apps was pretty much free for everyone, and you could even use Gmail as a web front end.

Over the years, they reduced the number of mailboxes each domain could have and originally at least, it wasn’t simple having multiple domains under one account. I could understand that – this was still a free service.

Last December, they killed the free option, and now it’s pay only, and I’m fine with that, I just wanted to put some back story in there as I’m grandfathered in with the 5 mailboxes per domain for free.

For a while now, I’ve not liked the ads on the web interface, or that theoretically my mail was analyzed for that mail targeting / profiling. Again, this is free, and when it’s free *you* are the product, as the old saying goes. I’m not a tinfoil hat fanatic, but I do like privacy, and decided it was time to pay for my email hosting again.

I looked at the Google (Apps) paid option – 5 USD a month for my 5 users. I then looked around and had a look at what MS is doing with Outlook on custom domains, and also at other hosting companies like Pair, and finally Rackspace.

It was tempting to stay with Google and Apps, but I don’t use the other Apps, just the email, and the way Google does things with it’s ‘AllMail’ philosophy irks some people, and there’s a whole post’s worth there on configs I’ve tried from app setup, to subscriptions and quite a few other things to improve that – but basically, I’m a simple Inbox n folder person. There are definitely upsides to the AllMail approach, but in my situation, people are preferring things in folders.

I decided to pitch a move to Rackspace on Twitter with a #rackspace hashtag, and quickly received several positive responses from users (and former employees) and a couple of contact people, who I followed up with, and who answered a few of my queries on quirks of my setup.

A couple of months ago, I signed up with Rackspace for a trial two weeks. Their product seems to be what I need – I can hold my two domains under a single Rackspace account, and each mailbox will cost me 2USD / month with a minimum of 5 (10USD / month). This actually works as I have 5 main mailboxes to move!

They support migration of data from various services via a migration assistant including GMail. I should note that this did not work for me from Google Apps using a preset, as my actual mail server was googlemail.com, not gmail.com. Not a problem – the manual setup worked fine. Having uploaded my from & to details in a provided spreadsheet, the script went to work, effectively logging in to Google as me, and copying the data across, and being reformatted by Rackspace.

Moving email hosts, like moving houses/apartments also gives you the opportunity to get to those things you’d been meaning to do, but never did. For me, it meant killing a few mailboxes, and rolling them in as aliases to my core addresses, meaning I have an ‘address’ for each of my two twitter accounts and a few other things, and they route into my core account, which means fewer accounts to own/check, no forwarding, and I can see where addresses have somehow attracted spam. Keeps it simple.

The web interface is very clean, very simple, and though I did need to set up some contacts, it wasn’t arduous at all. As far as my usual window onto my email – Thunderbird – it was all fine, and it pulled all my email down and let me re-sync it, so I’ve been tidying that all up as well, and slowly removing the AllMail. All in all, it’s been painless for me, and transparent to family members using their accounts, once we’d gone through phones and setup draft, sent and trash folders correctly!

It’s odd that in parallel, I’ve been moving my RSS reading habits from the soon to be retired Google Reader, to Newsblur. On my iPhone4, I used to use a syncd Reeder app with my Google account, but now just use that as a local RSS / OPML reader, as well as playing with the Newsblur app.

So, a few months on, I use Google products to very little extent – an email drop, and the odd G+ post. No more ‘core mail’ or RSS involvement, and I rarely even use the search any more (Twitter & Pocket pretty much take up my link following time). It seems a bit odd, but yes, I’m very happy with the move, and that I’ve actually managed to make it simpler.

Arduino and Raspberry Pi

Like many, it seems over the last few years, I’ve been getting more interested in some simple home brew hardware hacking. Thus, I’ve recently taken delivery of an Arduino Starter Kit, and a Raspberry Pi model B.

If you’ve somehow missed these, then a quick summary on both.

The Arduino group are an open source team, bringing that philosophy to hardware. The upshot is a collection simple circuit boards, bread boards, and simple electronic components – in the fact the whole thing makes me think of school electronics classes when I was 17. I got the starter kit, which contains all the important things you’ll need to do the 15 projects contained in the guide, from a Spaceship Interface to Touchy Feely Lamp. The book is well put together, and a great introduction to the system, but a brief search around the place shows people are doing some great things with their systems. (Starter Kit costs around 100USD / 9000JPY)

arduino starter kit
arduino starter kit

The Raspberry Pi is a little different – it still has an open source basis, but is essentially a basic computer – CPU, memory, the whole thing. You just add USB power, a case, an SD card for storage, and on a simple level, install a special Debian Linux release called Raspbian. From this you have a computer which can run media at 1080p over HMDI, to simple tasks and desktop over the RCA video connector. the base board costs from 20GBP for the Model A, to 26GBP for the Model B, which is the one I bought. So far it:s been a lot of fun, and impressive something so cheap and simple can be used to stream video off my  home NAS, and on a different install be a normal desktop for learning a bit of Python on.

raspberry_pie
raspberry_pie

New PC Build

For over 15 years, I’ve built my own PCs. The first was a 486/DX2-66 based machine just before Windows 95 came out. I’ve done it out of interest, but also to give me control over what I buy, and make replacements and upgrades cheaper.

My build was getting a bit old, the parts being between 2 and 3.5 years old and was missing some current technologies, so I decided to replace the main components, and sell the parts on to cover some of the cost of the new build:

Old build: AMD Athlon II 645 4 Core CPU, AMD 5750 graphics, ASRock motherboard, 430W Antec PSU, Lian Li case, DVD-R drive, 12GB RAM.

It was a good build, and still had some legs, but was deficient in some areas. The CPU was capable, but for the increasing amount of virtualisation and editing/encoding/rendering I’m doing, something faster was definitely going to be better. Moreover, though the ASRock was a great motherboard, it lacks PCIe 3 and USB3. The 5750 is a good card, but after nearly three years, is showing it’s age, and though I don’t game like I used to, I decided it was time to get a PCIe3 1GB card and play older games with more detail, and get a bit more out of newer games. The Antec PSU has been great – so much better than the Enermax I had previously, but I felt I needed something with a bit more capacity, to handle the extra GPU load, but potentially more from CPU and other components. The DVD-R drive had survived a few rebuilds, but I’ve wanted a BluRay drive for a while since I actually have some BDs now. The RAM is actually one set of 2*2GB from an older build, and 2*4GB I bought a couple of years ago – I’m going to re-use the latter only – they’re all fine, but I expect to add a further 2*4GB kit later this year.

So what’s new?

For the first time since the very early 2000s, I’ve gone with a retail Intel CPU. That last one was a Celeron 333 I think, and I used to overclock the hell out of it. Since then, it’s been AMD all the way, but now I’m back with Intel and the i5 3470, based on the Ivy Bridge architecture. Interestingly, this model has HD2500 graphics built in, rather than the more common 4000 part, but since I have a discrete graphics card, it doesn’t make much difference, and I think results in a lower power wattage rating. Perhaps for the next upgrade, the Bulldozer/Piledriver cores from AMD will have evolved a little more.

For a motherboard, I chose to stay with ASRock, and got one of their H77 based boards, the H77 Pro4/MVP. It’s an ATX sized board, and though there is a Micro ATX version, that was more expensive, so I stuck with this one. I find the ASRock board to be reliable and well laid out. I used to swear by Abit, but again, I had some bad run-ins, and moved on. The board has PCIe3 for graphics, SATA3/6Gb, and USB3, as well as some of the tweak utils they use, and for the first time for me on a PC, UEFI instead of the old BIOS. Also, it has enough monitored fan connectors to match my case for a change.

For graphics card, I basically trawled Tom’s Hardware, and went with the AMD HD7770, which sports an acceptable price, but also a good power efficiency. I went with the Gigabyte model, which is moderately quiet, and was a little cheaper, instead of having a pile of cables and bundled games I didn’t need.

I bought a new power supply – essentially the 650W version of the previous one. I’ve always had good results from Antec and SeaSonic PSUs in all the builds I’ve done for myself and for friends, and when I’ve tried something different, I’ve been disappointed. It’s not a sexy part of a build, but it’s the one part which has the capability to blow the rest of the machine, so choose wisely.

Lastly, I picked up a cheap, bulk, LG BluRay player, so I can watch some discs on my PC, which will be convenient.

I’ve kept the memory, and my aluminium Lian Li case, which I really like, all the peripherals, and drives, and my X-Fi audio card.

I bought pretty much all the parts in Akihabara, from Dos Paradise (DosPara), which is a great set of shops, and they always seem to have decent prices. Pricing was mainly done on kakaku.com, with research from Tom’s Hardware, PCper.com and Anandtech.

Ripping CDs for Fun

OK, maybe fun is not the right word, but over the last few years, I’ve been ‘digitally archiving’ a few items – it started with some old photo prints and negatives (that’s ongoing), and then I tackled my DVDs, and now I’m looking to sort my CD collection out (I think it’s ~400 discs).

So why do this? It’s a combination of convenience and sound quality really. I want to hear the music as I paid for it, but it’s a bit difficult to have all those CDs available around the house, and keep them away from the kids. Also, I have ripped all my CDs once, usually into iTunes, and over the years they’ve been in a smorgasbord of bit rates and formats, from 128kbps AAC and MP3, up to newer ones which are VBR ~256kbps AAC.

Now I’m doing this final rip to a lossless format, I can then simply transcode to whatever size/quality a target needs in the future, and enjoy that ‘CD quality’ of this master.

How am I doing this? For the rip, I’m using Exact Audio Copy which is a nice piece of freeware, and rips the audio from the disc using a variety of methods to try to make sure that what you get, as its name suggests, is an exact copy of the disc. It’ll then save this, with all the meta-data it looks up online as either .WAV files, or several other formats you can set up. I’m using the FLAC encoder, so it’s losslessly compressed, and is quite widely supported across players and platforms. This is also open source, so I should be able to play/convert it well into the future.

With even my lowly Windows machine, this takes only a few minutes per disc, including meta data tweaks I need for some of the non-English discs, so it’s more a case of just feeding the machine than anything else. As for size, FLAC, depending on settings, brings most of the CDs in at around 350MB, about half their native size, but obviously nowhere near the ~65MB AAC or MP3 would give you – alas the price you pay, but given disk space costs, it’s not a deal killer.

When at my PC, I tend to listen on my Sennheiser HD-555 headphones, via Foobar2000, which I find to be a nice, simple sound app. The hardware, for what it’s worth, is a Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCI Express card, which I find to sound better than the onboard Realtek codec, or the HDMI audio feed. On the Mac, it’s the built in Intel HD audio, which sounds acceptable, but the Creative card shows why there’s still a little more benefit in a separate sound card.

When not using the headphones, I have some ancient Sony SRS-Z750PC computer speakers which are fine for podcasts, background music and game effects, but aren’t great. In the future I may get a better set of speakers and even a separate amplifier for my computers, but that’ll have to wait a bit. (A real home music system for the living room is higher up the agenda!).

Is it worth the time? Actually, I think it has been – some of my very old rips always sounded a bit harsh, and going back to listening to the CD equivalent makes it all the more difficult to live with, and its been good to listen to all that music again.