Monday 31 December 2007

Pico-Terabox - Maybe the smallest 1TB server?

For a while now I have been meaning to get on of these tiny Pico-ITX boards and build a little server with it.
I wanted at least 1TB of diskspace and I wanted it to be small.
I ordered the Pico-ITX a while ago but never managed to find enough time to build a case for it.
The Pico-ITX I got from, along with a tiny DC-DC converter and external power supply, 1GB RAM, a 8GB flash card and IDE to CF converter.
The only 1TB harddrive I could find was a Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000, so I got that one.

I first wanted to go for an old radio as a case, but could not find one that I really liked, so I decided to just build a simple small case out of aluminium.
I bought some 500x500 mm alu-sheets from the hardware store some wood for decorating and got started.
The box measures 180x100x70 mm. The hardrive just fits into it with some space on one side for cables and the 8GB CF card. Above the hardrive sits the Pico-ITX board and next to it there is just enough room for cables and the DC-DC converter.

After running it for a while I did notice that the harddrive got quite warm and heated up the case, so I decides to attach some alu-profiles as heat sinks to the back of the case.
I also made a little air duct(out of paper) for the Pico-ITX board.

I put an  Ubuntu 7.10 on it and the system is now running night and day as a server which does nightly backups, runs a slimserver and acts as a NAS.

It was a fun little project and I am quite pleased with the result.

Friday 28 December 2007

Christmas 2007

Kate and I decided to spend Christmas in London this year.
On the 22nd we had a little Christmas dinner with our house mate, Gareth, and some colleagues from work, Jarkko, his girlfriend Tina and a friend of theirs. Jarkko and Tina cooked a ham, which is the traditional dish for Christmas in Finland. They also brought a salmon which we smoked in the oven in a special smoking bag. We had special Finish mulled wine with the diner and for desert Jarkko and Tina's friend had made some traditional Finish fruit salad. All very tasty and way too much to eat.
Though the feasting did not stop with the desert. After we relocated to the living room we all enjoyed Tina's homemade cookies and more mulled wine: I made some Feuerzangenbowle, a traditional German winter drink. It is basically mulled wine with a big cone of suggar being flambed with rum which then caramelizes and drips into the wine ... tasty! It was a lovely evening, very christmasy!

On the 24th Kate's parents arrived and we all went to the Albert Hall for the "Christmas Carols by Candle Light". I realy like the Albert Hall and the Chrismat concerts are always great fun, lovely music and the audience gets to join in for some of the songs.
We had more Feuerzangenbowle after we got back.

The 25th was unpacking gifts and cooking and eating for the rest of the day.
We had a tasty turkey with all the trimmings, a yummy Christmas pudding which Kate's mom made and a delicious Christmas cake, Kate made... too much food!
On boxing day we all went to the movies and watched "The Golden Compass". And for diner we had fantastic tasting venison.

Friday 21 December 2007

Snowboarding in Obergurgl

My sister, Urte, invited me and Kate to go snowboarding with her and her boyfriend, Marvin.
I had a few holidays left that I could not carry over into the new year and how could I refuse anyways. Unfortunately Kate could not join us, because she had to work.

I left London on the 12th for Hamburg. Marvin and Urte picked me up from the airport and we went to mys sister's place to pack and have some dinner.
We left around 10pm for Austria. My sister took the first 3h of driving, I had the awful middle part and Marvin did the last bit.

We got to Obergurgl at around 9ish in the morning. The weather was beautiful, sunshine, no clouds at about -10C. We did not have a place to stay yet, so we decided to first sort that out and went to the tourist information. We found a nice apartment within walking distance of the lifts. It was in the valley with big windows and a pretty view of the mountain.

After unpacking we went straight to the lifts. Marvin and I went off-piste a few times, which turned out to be a big mistake. There was just not enough snow and we ran over a number of rocks. :(
Both Marvin and I had some big scratches on our boards so we decided to give them to the shop and have them fixed.
It was a fun day but extremely exhausting. It just showed once again that I spent too much time in front of a computer-screen and too little time exercising.

The second day was not as nice as the first ... we had a few clouds in the sky. ;)
We picked up our boards from the shop. My board was almost good as new and Marvin's was still rideable but it's edge was quite damaged.
We did (try to avoid) that rocks that day but could not ignore some of the untouched hills where it looked like the snow was deep enough. It was great and we ended up with only some minor scratches not worth mentioning.

After the lifts closed we went shopping, I needed some gloves and I wanted to buy a helmet. Marvin decided to get a new board, because his one was more broken and did not ride very well anymore.
We spent the rest of the evening cooking, eating and playing card games.

The weather got better over the next days and colder ... -15C.
We found a few untouched parts of the hills again and some tiny ramps to practice some jumps.
All in all just fun. Trulli somehow hurt her finger, I did too, and one of the jumps ended in a crash with me hurting my left knee ... I am just not 20 anymore :(

One of the evenings we went to the Aqua Dome in Laengenfeld, a spa with great outdoor pools. It was very relaxing.

On the 17th it was time to go back home again :(
We did some boarding for a good part of the day and then packed up.
Marvin and Urte dropped me off in Munich with a couple hours to spare before my flight back to London was scheduled.
It was a great 5 days of snowboarding!

Monday 24 September 2007

A Trip to Feldberg in late August

It was about time for us to take a break from the busy city life.
We decided to make it simple and visit my folks in Feldberg, Germany.

We went canoeing with my folks on Saturday.
Fledberg is a great place for that.
It has many lakes which were formed during the last ice age.
Most of them are connected by little natural channels and streams.

On Sunday we just sat around drank Pims and enjoyed not having to do anything. Most of the evenenings we played dice and card games with my parent.
One day Kate and I decided to do a bit of cycling around the lakes.
It was a beautiful day and we stopped in a little pub for a couple pints before we continued.

We had another 2 days of kayaking but the weather was getting worse and worse and all in all a bit chilly to be out on the lakes. So one day we decided to visit a local gallery and on another a castle not to far away.

We got back to London in the evening of Saturday and went straight to a colleague's BBQ.
It got quite late and we did need all of Sunday to recover.

The trip to Feldberg was all we had asked for, a good time to relax and enjoy.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

Becoming a Skydiver

On 4th August, after weeks of waiting for good weather, I finally got my birthday present! Kate and I got up very early in the morning to catch a train to Princes Risborough. Unfortunately we went to the wrong train station. With only minutes to spare we managed to catch a cab to the right station to get our train. From Princes Risborough, we took another cab to the drop zone, a little field near Lewknor just off the M40. Unfortunately the weather had gotten worse, from beautiful sunshine when we left London to overcast and being surprisingly cold at the drop zone. It was 8.30am and we were the first ones to arrive. Eventually, the clouds broke and the aeroplane arrived. I got my gear and at around 11am it was time to take off.

My two instructors, Simon and Ian, talked me through the first jump and made me practice.

It was a small aeroplane, we all had to squeeze in and there wasn't much room for manoeuvre! The time to wait seemed endless.

But finally we got up to 11,000 feet and it was time to repeat my drills, but now for real:

Simon: "Ready to skydive?"
Me: "Ready!"
Simon: "Get into the door."

So I got into the door, both feet dangling outside and a cold air blowing into my face. There was not much time to think. Both hands down near the edge of the aeroplane, turning towards my primary instructor, Simon:

Me: "Check in"
Simon: "Okay!"

Then turning outwards to my secondary instructor, Ian:

Me: "Check out"
Ian: "Okay!"

Then I pushed myself up, down and then out of the door with a full arch and suddenly we were all flying through the air.

I saw the horizon and was as stable as I could before I started my practice exercises, checking my altimeter, checking with my instructors for guidance. After I got an ok from both of them I had to find the toggle to launch my parachute three times, but not pull yet! Then back to checking altitude and instructions.

At 6,000 I was supposed to lock into my altitude, signal 5,500 and pull my toggle. But this time everything was happening so fast, and there were signals from my instructors all over the place and before I noticed Simon took my hand and put it to the toggle. It took me a while to understand what was going on until I finally realised we were at 6,000 feet and I shouldn't wait any longer but pull my toggle.

Four seconds later, after a jerk from the 'chute, I was hanging in the air. But no time to rest just yet. It was time for canopy exercises. Look up, check if it is big and square, and grab my steering toggles, pulling on left and right to make sure I can steer, and pulling both down at once to make sure the brakes work! Everything worked fine. I turned around to see where the drop zone was, to find out where I had to land, and a voice started talking to me on the radio. It was a very calm and reassuring voice. I was told everything was ok and I could just enjoy myself for a bit, heading into the wind and doing some turns.

But there was too much excitement than to just enjoy the view. I started to descend and the voice on the radio started to guide me towards the drop zone. The drop zone came closer and closer, I made my final turn and was heading upwind, passing the green grass of the landing spot and then there was a voice saying, "Jan, 3, 2, 1, flare!". All of a sudden I was standing safely in the middle of a wheat field.

The centre of the drop zone was not far away at all, though. I packed my parachute and got back, being a bit disappointed with myself with not being as good as I thought I should have been - but it felt great and I didn't fall over when landing!

I had my debriefing on the ground with my instructors and although there was plenty of room for improvement, they advanced me to the second level and told me it wasn't that bad and that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. So, I finally took out my credit card and decided to pay for the next seven jumps. I did one more jump that day. In this jump I was supposed to do a 90 degree turn in the air. The second jump was much better than the first one. It seemed to take much longer, and I knew what to expect. I did my exercises and turns, and at 6,000 I locked on and pulled my own toggle. Again they guided me to land in the wheat field!

It was a gorgeous day and Kate and I both got sunburned. We were ready to go home and return the next morning, but Martin the club owner invited us to stay for a barbecue in the field and we crashed the night in one of the other skydiver's tents, using emergency blankets to sleep with! It was a beautiful evening.

The next morning, at 7.45 we got up again. I was scheduled for the first flight. This was to be the last time I jumped out with two instructors and this time they were going to let go of me, to see if I could fly stably by myself. We got to 11,000, got out of the plane and got stable. They started to let go of me and I could now really understand what a difference it made when they held on to me, but I was alright. Then it was the same procedure as always, at 6,000 I locked on, signalled 5-5 and pulled. Unfortunately the wind was stronger than the day before and we left the aeroplane too far downwind. Even though I was trying to stay upwind, it was impossible for me, with my big student canopy, to make it all the way back to the drop zone. So again another landing in a field, but I was closer to the centre of the drop zone than ever before. With only about 10 metres to spare, I landed with a good standing landing - but sadly nobody could see it!

I did three more jumps that day. My fourth jump was with only one instructor and I had to do two 180 degree turns in the air. This time I did my landing procedures all by myself. I aimed straight for the green. My approach was just right, but unfortunately I flared a little bit early and landed straight on my knees in front of all the people watching!

On my fifth jump I had to do two 360 turns. I did that one with a new instructor, and instead of doing two 360s we did two 90 degree turns and a 360 turn.

My sixth jump was one of the most exciting jumps. This time I had to jump out of the aeroplane by myself, with the instructor closely following me. As soon as I had my heading, I was supposed to do a backflip, followed by some forward tracking. My exit was a bit unstable, as I bumped with my chute against the door frame of the plane, but everything went fine and after the forward tracking I had plenty of time before I had to pull my toggle. I managed to land standing, even though I flared a bit early again.

This was probably one of the most adrenalin filled weekends I have had. We got back home and had a glass of wine to celebrate and I must say I have never been so drunk after one glass of anything!

We went back a week later, on the 12th, to finish my course. On that day we had more clouds and I was on the second plane to go up. By the time we reached 9,000 feet we were told that we didn't have clearance to go up to the full 11,000 into the clouds. What a bummer, we had to land again. After a few hours we finally got clearance and I did my seventh jump. This time a backflip, two 360s, and some forward tracking. This was a fantastic jump. I exited, I did my flip and in front of me was a big, puffy cloud. I couldn't see my instructor just yet, so I continued with my turns. I started my forward tracking before my instructor showed up on the left side of me, giving me two thumbs up and with me having a big grin, checking my altitude and realised that we were only at 8,000 feet so far and I had plenty of time to enjoy the freefall. I landed by myself again - it started to get easier. My last and final jump was the so-called "hop and pop". I exited at 5,000 feet, stabilised, waited about five to ten seconds and pulled my toggle. That was it! I had now completed my AFF course and am eagerly waiting for my next chance to go skydiving!

Here a little video of my first jump:

Friday 13 July 2007

My parent's house turns 10

My mom always wanted to have a party during the summer time, so she took the ten year anniversary of the house as a good one. Kate and I booked a couple of flights for an extended weekend in Feldberg. We arrived in Berlin late in the evening on Thursday, missing the last train to Feldberg. So we called up my parents and took the S-Bahn to Oranienberg, where we had to wait for about half and hour in the cold before my parents came to pick us up.

On Friday we walked around Feldberg and generally relaxed. In the evening my mom's new kayak arrived, so we started to put it all together. We finished putting it together on Saturday, when Trulli and Marvin arrived. Marvin was the first one to try it out and then Kate was up for second. Not being very experienced and getting no help from anyone, she got into the boat herself and before she knew it she was standing in the water with the boat upside down. Unfortunately nobody had a camera!

In the afternoon the first people came. We had coffee and cakes and in the evening we had a big barbecue and a camp fire. Before nightfall, my mom gathered everybody together and went down to the lake, taking little boats to row across. We arrived at the bistro of a family friend. After some glasses of wine out on the little deck which stretched out onto the water, Trulli and I tried some "shoes" which enable one to walk on water.

After this, my mom's friend prepared three canoes for us, each having two burning torches at the rear.

We went once around the lake in the canoes and then headed back to the bistro where we had cheese and wine before rowing back home. We finished off the evening sitting around the camp fire.

On Sunday we went wakeboarding in Neubrandenburg. It was my first time on a wakeboard and though I fell a few times, I did finally make it around the whole course, and was even able to start with a jump start.

On Monday we returned to London, after a wonderful weekend.

Friday 11 May 2007

Easter and May Bank Holiday Weekend

For Easter this year we decided to stay home instead of going to Germany, because I didn't manage to book any flights earlier and it was too expensive. On the Saturday was the famous Boat Race, so we prepped some Pimms, made some burgers and watched the race. On Sunday we did a bit of Easter egg hunting in the house and prepared a big Sunday roast. For dessert Kate made a chocolate Simnel (Easter) cake with marzipan eggs.

For the holiday weekend in May we went up to Birmingham to visit Kate's friends. We visited the Black Country Museum. It was a gorgeous day and a very beautiful museum. We explored every bit of it and sat outside a local pub and enjoyed some ales.

Before we went home, we went to see the Cadburys chocolate factory, where we learned all about chocolate making and the history of Cadbury.

Monday 19 February 2007

Snowboarding, moving, skiing

In late January I went to Washington to meet up with the development team there. To make good use of the time, Simon invited me to come along snowboarding in West Virginia. As I didn't have any gear I decided to buy my very first snowboard. We were about 10 adults and 5 children in a beautiful, not so little mountain cottage. We cooked our own food every day and enjoyed snowboarding from Wednesday to Sunday.

Then I had a week of work at the Reston office. While I was in the States my flatmates got called up by our estate agents who said we had 2 weeks to move house as the landlords didn't want to renew our contract. Fortunately they found somewhere just around the corner. So I got back to London at 7am on Saturday morning, and came straight home from the airport to find most of my belongings already packed into boxes. I kept packing what was left and once we had a van for moving our stuff, we started packing up the van. For the next two days we kept moving stuff and we finally finished on Sunday night.

Just a week later Kate and I flew to Germany to go cross-country skiing with my parents and sister in the Czech Republic. The weather wasn't too great. The temperatures started rising above freezing point and rain was predicted. We were afraid we would not have any snow to ski on but it all turned out to be very beautiful.

I did promise Kate that she would get a snowman for Valentine's day, so when we were taking a break from skiing I built a big snowman right next to the track. I spent about an hour decorating him and turning him into a punk snowman.

The hotel we stayed in was barely tolerable. The food was just plain awful and the staff was plain rude. But that didn't stop us exploring the area and find some other restaurants where we could enjoy beatiful Czech food. We had a few nice days where it was just sunny with fresh snow that came down overnight. All in all, we were very lucky.

Tuesday 16 January 2007

Waterpolo in Cambridge

In January my friend Alex from Germany invited Kate and I to come and meet her in Cambridge,
where she and her team mates were holding a water polo game.
We got there in the morning and the weather was a bit rainy but sometimes the sun came through. We did some sightseeing and went down the river in a punt, where I more than once lost the pole and almost fell in!

We had some coffee then went on to the first game. The team was a bit short of people, so they asked me if I could join and be goalie. I'd never played water polo before but how could I refuse six women in swimming costumes?

After a couple of games and being completely exhausted we went to a local pub, had some good English beer and lovely food.

It was good to catch up with Alex and her friends again. I'm looking forward to my next invitation to a game!

Wednesday 3 January 2007

Christmas and New Year

Christmastime is a great time. The company I am working for, Actix, decided to have this year's Christmas party at the London zoo. Some of the people actually dressed up in animal themes costumes for the occasion.

Jarkko and Tina probably had the best costumes. They dressed up as wild cats.

We had a hypnotist, who didn't work on me, and lots of booze, which did a much better job, and we danced all night.

At the houseshare we also prepared for Christmas. We bought a wonderful seven foot Nordman tree, which just fit into the living room. We decorated it with real candles, ornaments and lights.

I went off to Germany to visit my parents for Christmas eve. It was a fun evening, I got a beautiful pocket watch and my mom made me a little fat angel, which I roasted over some candles.

I got a Photoshop book and a big pepper mill and a scuba diver bottle stop from Kate, who joined us in Germany on Boxing Day.

For New Year's we went up to Kuehlungsborn and visited some friends from Berlin(Alex, ...).
We walked along the shore of the Baltic Sea, drank lots of mulled wine, and when it got dark we started to set off fireworks for the children first, and for midnight we joined the locals on the beach setting off batteries of fireworks, drinking champagne, and wishing each other the best for the coming year. Fortunately, it didn't start raining until the fireworks subsided, and we finished the night with dancing away.

On the first of January, we followed an old tradition and decided to jump into the Baltic Sea in traditional swimming suits. My god, it was cold, brrrrr....