Why I love my Home Server
Last week I posted about the woes I was having upgrading the hard drive in my laptop. Well I finally figured out the solution and it had nothing to do with Windows Home Server. (I do think they could add some support for the issue I was having, but that's another article) The issue ended up being that I had a dummy partition on my hard drive (Dell, seriously . . . WTF is this for?) and when I formatted the new hard drive, I created one big partition, so the file that tells the PC where the Operating System is was pointing to the second partition and not the first. Once I added a dummy partition in front of the other, it worked perfectly.
But I digress . . . There is a great article this week on Home Server Hacks about why WHS is so great. The premise is that you just simply don't have to think about backups. It's just done automagically. As long as your machine is on (or set to be woken up by WHS) it gets backed up. Every Night. Now having been a former systems administrator, backups were a big part of my life for a very long time. If I didn't have good backups of my servers EVERY night, it could cost the company I was working for thousands of dollars in lost productivity if a hard drive failed, or something else happened. So I know better. But prior to WHS, I would MAYBE back up my laptop once or twice . . . a year. Now my laptop does not get backed up every night. But it does at least once a week or so. My home PC and my wife's laptop each get backed up every night. If I actually took the time to come home and boot up my laptop, it would get backed up each night. And I'm going to try to get better at that.
So after the restore of my laptop with it's new larger drive, I've had some quirky issues. Mostly dealing with activation of software, etc. Adobe, Microsoft, Apple all use an activation system that looks at your machine's configuration when you activate the software. So if you restore your machine with a larger hard drive for example, you may end up with some issues. iTunes has been an issue, although quickly resolved. Adobe software was a huge issue. I couldn't deactivate my CS3 to install CS4 and the friendly folks in Noida, India weren't much help either. But the persistent problem I'm having is with Norton 360. For some reason the install of 360 is wonky. It keeps trying to want to install something. And I don't have the original download for 360 and since the version I use is outdated, I can't download it from Symantec any longer.
So I started perusing the WHS and lo and behold, on my home PC, I found the download. So now I'm off to re-install Norton 360. I love my Home Server. :-)
My Laptop Hard Drive Woes
"Just Install the new hard drive and restore from WHS (Windows Home Server)! In .5 to 2 hours you're back up and running!"
Oh Steve, if only it were that easy my friend, if only . . .
So I've mentioned before that I have a HP EX470 Windows Home Server. This little box rocks! Every night it calmly and quietly goes about the task of backing up all my PC's on my network (3). So I don't ever have to worry about losing data. It is VERY cool. It does other things too, but for this task, I love the little guy.
I've recently found myself very nearly out of disk space on my laptop. I've got about 155Gb of data on a 160Gb drive. A few more photo shoots of homes and that'll be sucked up rather quickly. So I ordered me a Western Digital Scorpion Black (sounds ominous doesn't it?) 7200 RPM 320 Gb (Insert sounds of Tim the Tool Man Taylor grunting here) drive for my laptop. The plan was this:
- Take the laptop home, boot up and do a manual backup through WHS
- Shut down the laptop and replace the 160Gb HD with the 320GB HD
- Boot the laptop (on the wired network) using the PC Recovery CD from WHS
- Restore the latest backup from WHS onto the new Hard Drive and voila! Double the disk space!
The plan worked perfectly. Until. I rebooted. The error message that came up told me that the computer could not find the Operating System on the hard drive. Weird. So when something doesn't work once, as system administrators, you try it again. Just in case. :-)
So I restored the backup one more time. Same thing. $#it! OK, what could be the problem? Can't find the OS . . . Boot.ini controls where windows looks to find the OS(s) on the machine. Now I don't have a handy windows boot disk that would allow me to jump in and look at Boot.ini, so I pop in the XP CD hoping to do a repair. There is a command line program "bootcfg /rebuild" that will command XP to look at the Boot.ini and make repairs to it to point to where the OS is. So I boot from the XP CD and it starts loading and then suddenly I get a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). With the error pointing to pci.sys. SIGH!
OK, so the restore CD gives you the option to "View Boot.ini" at the very end. So I think they already planned for this eventuality so I do the restore YET Again. (bear in mind the restore takes nearly 4 hours on my network) And at the very end, I view the "Boot.ini" file and sure enough, it's pointing to the SECOND partition on the HD . . . well when I initially formatted the Hard Drive, I only put one partition on it. (Stuipd Dell, why do they have to have that tiny little FAT partition on every PC they ship?!!!) So the restore was just doing what it thought it should. So I opened Boot.ini, made the appropraite changes and tried saving it. "Boot.ini is a read only file, please save the file with another name" Sonofa . . . the restore boots with a stripped down version of Vista and there are no tools to change the read-only flag.
After some research, I determine it wouldn't be a bad idea to update the BIOS on my laptop. I was running the BIOS that shipped with the machine (A02) and the current version was (A14). So they've made a couple changes. So this morning, I popped in the OLD hard drive, booted into XP and downloaded the new BIOS from Dell. Flashed the BIOS and made sure the PC would still boot. My intent was that I would again boot into Repair mode from the XP CD, modify the Boot.ini file on the new HD and be back up and running. NOPE! Still got the BSOD on pci.sys. So here I sit, running on the OLD Hard drive typing a blog post.
So the plan when I get home tonight . . . Do another backup since now I'll have data TODAY that I want to keep. Then put the NEW HD in the PC and do a RESTORE, but when I do the RESTORE, I'll add the stupid FAT Partition onto the HD so when I restore the OS, it's on the SECOND partition and Boot.ini SHOULD be correct and the Laptop SHOULD boot without issues. That's the plan anyway.
Still doesn't make me feel good that I can't do an XP repair due to this pci.sys error though. That'll have to get fixed before I need it.
Stay tuned, more to come. Steve? Any ideas?
Is that photo real?
I've been blogging lately about HDR photography, my latest obsession. The other day I had a professional photographer shoot one of the homes I'm listing and just had this interaction with an agent that's showing it tonight:
“So do you have a ton of offers on this already?”
I said “Not a ton” (I’m not lying, zero is not a ton!)
She said “Well I’m going to get my clients out there ASAP to look at the home! By the way, the photo of the front of the home, is that real? Because it looks like a painting” . . . I laughed and said “No, that’s a real photo . . . it’s a technique called HDR photography” and went on to explain in brief detail what that was.
Judge for yourself . . . does it look real? Or just REALLY GOOD?
If you want to see more, head on over to John L. Scott and see for yourself what really good photography can do for a home . . . I'm VERY impressed:
Another HDR Image - Mount Rainier
I went to the home I'm going to be listing next week at dusk last night and snapped some photos of Mount Rainier. It really does have a killer view of the valley, the fairgrounds, Cascade foothills and of course, Mount Rainier. I decided to shoot an HDR sequence as well. I won't bore you with the over exposed image and the under exposed image. But here for comparison is the 0.0 EV image and the three combined images into HDR (-2.0 EV, 0.0 EV and +2.0 EV).
Original 0.0 EV image. Notice how none of the details below the mountain show up? The trees, other homes, etc? Normally I would tweak an image like this in PhotoShop to reveal some additional detail, but it would never come out like the next image.
Here is the Merged HDR image. Quite a difference eh? All the details of the valley come out, even the clouds look cooler. Especially the Lenticular cloud off to the right of the Mountain. I was hoping it would move back into position over the mountain, but we can't have everything. I think I may pony up and buy Photomatix Pro so I can get rid of the stupid watermarks. :-)
John's Quest for Easy HDRi
So for those of you unfamiliar with the term HDR, or HDRi . . . it stands for High Dynamic Range Imaging. The basic premise is this, cameras cannot capture all the detail of a picture in one shot. The camera compensates for the amount of light in the shot, but photos are not really true reflections of what our eyes may see. Our eyes adjust as we look around the room to let in more light as we move through the shadows and less light as we move in through the bright spots. A camera has to compose the whole image as it sees it and make a best guess. The way that you can override a camera is by adjusting the EV, or Exposure Value. Bringing the EV up a step or two reveals the bright spots in an image and bringing it down reveals the shadows. (I'm not a real technical whiz, so I may be getting some of this wrong, but this is how I understand it so far). What HDR does is allow you to take 3 (or more) shots of the same scene, ideally on a tripod with a remote shutter release and combine them into one final image that reveals highlights and shadows and brings out all the details of a scene.
The basic process is this, Take one photo at 0.0 EV, At least one photo at -1.0 or -2.0 EV and at least one photo at +1.0 or +2.0 EV. If you have the time and patience, taking more shots will give you a better image (so I'm told) and you can adjust your EV in smaller increments. 0.5 EV, 1.0 EV, 1.5 EV, etc. Some cameras even have an auto-bracketing feature that will allow you to fire the shutter off, hold down the release and get three shots in succession one at 0.0 EV and the others at either +/- 1.0 or +/- 2.0 EV. My camera (Nikon D80) happens to have this function. So today, I went to a home I'm listing next week and played around with shooting photos. As I've had time, I've been playing with Photoshop CS3 (Can't wait for CS4) and another program specifically designed for HDR processing, Photomatix Pro. Below is my first attempt at an HDR image, using three images. One at 0.0 EV, one at -2.0 EV and the final one at +2.0 EV. Had I been thinking, I would have composed the same shot with 0.0, +1.0 and -1.0 just to compare.
Here is the original photo at 0.0 EV. Notice how the photo just looks "flat"? Nothing really grabs you?:
Here is the photo at -2.0 EV. Everything is way too dark:
Here is the photo at +2.0 EV. Notice how the bright spots are overly bright? Like the light on the dining room wall? And the highlight behind the sofa next to the window?:
And finally after processing through PhotoMatix and using their Tone Mapping function, here is the final combined HDR image. Nothing too overblown, nothing understated. The details in the sofa and chairs pop out. The light looks natural on the walls. And overall much brighter and clearer than the original 0.0 EV image:
Pretty amazing stuff. This will eventually make me a better photographer and allow me to do a much better job for my clients as I learn how to tweak these images to get the most amount of detail from them. I want my images to just SHINE on the MLS to hopefully attract more and more buyers to the home. The research continues . . .