All posts by Debarka Banik

Low-cost Hypervisor build – the premilinaries

Due to some recent happenings, I am suddenly in the need for a dedicated virtual machine rig. But I am also on a strict budget, so have to keep the costs as low as possible, and yet not skimp so much that the end result becomes unusable.

I had done some research on the subject of hypervisors, or virtual machine hosts, in the past and VMware ESXi seemed to be the best choice. So with that in mind, I set about digging in to the details of the current version of ESXI (6.0) and my hardware options.

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PC Build: July 2015

If you have read my computer history article, you’ll know that I’m presently using a late 2009 27″ iMac as my daily driver. While it is still serving me fine despite a few glitches, I believe in being ready with a replacement at short notice should the need arise. Now it’s a awful waste to have a computer on standby that is not being put to good use because we all know that the hottest hardware at the moment won’t be so hot a couple of years down. So with that philosophy, I always keep a hypothetical PC configuration ready that I can build and get ready at relatively short notice, should the need arise. We all know that the research is the most time consuming part of the process. So I pre-plan these builds with various considerations like my typical usage scenarios, hardware performance vs. cost, features and compatibility. I also usually check for availability as being in India often makes certain items either unavailable or unattainable at a reasonable cost.

Typical usage

  • General everyday use but often with several applications running and always having more than 20 browser tabs open and frequently accessed.
  • Running a few virtual machine instances simultaneously. While most of them are low resource intensive, some of them do need more resources (mainly RAM) and I need all of them to be responsive and available.
  • Occasional video and photo editing.
  • Even more occasional gaming. While I’m not the type of gamer who always seeks out the latest titles, I really don’t like turning down my detail/quality settings any less than maximum. And the game I’m fancying at a given moment may just happen to be one of the recent releases needing the most cutting-edge graphics hardware.

With the above in mind, here is my planned build for now. I’ve separated each component category into its own heading below and will also provide my reasoning behind the particular component selection.

Continue reading PC Build: July 2015

Apple Music: First Impressions

Apple launched their online music streaming service to much fanfare on June 30, 2015. It’s their entry into the already bustling music streaming business arena, but being Apple, they caught everybody’s attention. This is not an in-depth review of the service; I will just share my initial impressions of using the service.

The service was first announced during the WWDC 2015 opening keynote on June 8, 2015. It was going to be launched in over 100 countries worldwide on June 30 and much of the focus was on the curated radio station Beats 1 that was going to be part of the service. Apple had signed on some high profile DJ’s and the station was claimed to be unlike any other online radio station. There wouldn’t be any automated playlists; the station would be manually run by the DJ’s round the clock from Los Angeles, New York and London. The Apple Music service would be available via the updated iTunes app on Mac and Windows PC’s, iOS, and also Android at a later stage. The service would be available free for the first 3 months and then cost $9.99 per month for an individual and $14.99 per month for a family plan.

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My Computer History

Hello, and welcome to my technology blog. Here I will mostly cover topics of personal interest to me – PC’s (and Macs of course), phones, related software as well as server/appliance hardware or software that may catch my eye. Before I get started with that however, I would like to give you a brief history of computers I’ve owned over the years. This will give you a better  idea of where I’m coming from, when I talk of things today.

It all started back in 1991 when I was first introduced to computers at my school in the form of a BBC Micro. We didn’t actually do much at the stage. We just played around with the Logo programming language in an effort to understand the basics of computers and programming. Then came the IBM PC compatibles and BASIC. But at that stage my involvement with computers wasn’t that deep.

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Two-Day Hiroshima and Miyajima trip from Tokyo – Part II

In the previous part I covered the first day of a 2-day tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima from Tokyo. The first day consisted of arriving at Hiroshima from Tokyo and touring the Peace Memorial Park. In this part I will cover the island of Miyajima and the beautiful Itsukushima shrine.

Miyajima is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of the administration and the people of the island, it still retains a traditional Japanese Edo-era look. It’s one of those places that let you experience the old charm of Japan before all the modernization happened. It’s also a nature lover’s paradise and provides good opportunities for hiking and camping, though we will leave those out of our itinerary for our one day tour. Okay, if you’re a really good hiker, you can still make it up and down the mountain by afternoon, in time for a train back to Tokyo.

As I had elected to spend the night at Miyajimaguchi after my tour of Hiroshima the previous day, it was quite easy for me to get to the island. Miyajimaguchi is where you have the ferry docks for the short ride to Miyajima island. If you stayed at Hiroshima instead, see the first part of this series on
how to get to Miyajimaguchi.

As far as I could see, there are 2 ferry operators for the Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima ride and back. One of them is JR (Japan Rail), so if you have a JR Pass it’s a free ride for you!

JR ferry to Miyajima
JR ferry to Miyajima
A view of Miyajima island and the five-story pagoda from the ferry
A view of Miyajima island and the five-story pagoda from the ferry

The primary attraction of Miyajima is the Itsukushima shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sprawled across a shallow bay, this mid-16th century Shinto shrine is a sight to behold. But don’t head in there as soon as you land on the island! The shrine looks its best at high tide. The shrine is built on stilts on the shallow bay and as sea water floods the bay at high tide, the shrine appears to float on the water. It’s a majestic sight!

If the tide is low, it’s better to wait till it rises. But of course, if you missed high tide earlier in the morning, you can’t wait for the next one. If you got there early enough, the tide may still be high enough. Use your best judgement here. I didn’t think about the tide being a major factor at first and went in anyway, only to go in again later by spending twice the amount of money on entrance fees. At ¥300 per entry, it’s not that much though.

To reach the shrine, just turn right from the ferry dock and walk along the shore. Even as you are sailing towards the island you should be able to catch a glimpse of the shrine and the O-Torii. The O-Torii is the sea-facing gateway to the shrine and built in typical Japanese style. Like the rest of the shrine, the O-Torii also appears to be a floating structure when the tide is high.

Continue reading Two-Day Hiroshima and Miyajima trip from Tokyo – Part II

Two-Day Hiroshima and Miyajima trip from Tokyo – Part I

Hiroshima is a place of immense historical value. Although the history associated with it is fairly recent, its nature is of a unique kind. A visit to Hiroshima is humbling for most people, a testament to the horrors of war in it’s most destructive form, and the resilience of the Japanese people to recover from such unthinkable destruction. It’s definitely a must-see for World War II history buffs, but even if you’re a casual tourist visiting Japan, I would highly recommend a visit for one or two days. Specially a two day trip as that would allow you to visit the neighboring island of Miyajima – often described as one of the most beautiful places in Japan.

I made this two day tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima from Tokyo in October 2009 during my short tour of Japan. Although a one day tour of Hiroshima alone is possible, you will be on a very tight schedule, so I won’t recommend it.

As my tour of Japan was based in Tokyo, I planned on starting early from Tokyo, taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) all the way to Hiroshima, reaching there around noon and sightseeing till evening before checking in to my hostel in Miyajimaguchi in the suburbs of Hiroshima. Miyajimaguchi being just a short ferry ride away from the island of Miyajima would leave me pretty much the whole of day 2 to tour Miyajima before heading back to Tokyo.

As you would have it, after a long day of traveling in Tokyo, which included a lot of walking around, and some late evening beers, waking up early isn’t the easiest thing in the world! Still I managed to leave my hotel in Ueno around 7 AM and after a short commuter train ride, reached Tokyo station in time to get tickets for the 7:33 AM Shinkansen Hikari service to Hiroshima with a change of trains at Osaka. I used my JR Pass to pay for my Shinkansen tickets and I recovered the cost of the pass and then saved some from this round trip alone! I would therefore highly recommend getting the JR Pass if you plan on using the Shinkansen a few times during your stay – it offers great savings! More on the JR Pass in another article.

The Shinkansen system of Japan, or bullet trains as they are popularly known are definitely worth a try. To really experience them, you should avoid taking just a short trip to a neighboring town like Yokohama and take a slightly longer journey which lets you experience the extended high speed runs between cities. And although you may not get a true sensation of the speed from sitting in the train, you will know how fast you’ve traveled when you find yourself hundreds of kilometers away in just a couple of hours! Doing the Tokyo-Hiroshima-Tokyo journey more than fulfills your quota of Shinkansen experience. The JR Pass only lets you use the slower Hikari and Kodama services (slower as in more stops) and require you to change trains at Osaka, so if you’re not using the pass, I would recommend going with the Nozomi service which goes all the way to Hiroshima and is faster (less stops). The Hikari trains are faster than the Kodama ones. so get a Hikari if you can, but don’t bother waiting too long for one.

Shinkansen 700 series trains at Tokyo station
Shinkansen 700 series trains at Tokyo station

Finding the track or platform for your train in a Japanese station is quite straightforward. Shinkansen trains use dedicated tracks/platforms and these are separated from the other tracks in a station. Once you’re in the Shinkansen section, find out from one of the electronic display boards which track/platform your train will be departing from and then just follow the signs to there. Note that Shinkansen trains are extremely punctual. Once the train’s door closes, there is no way you can get in, even if you were standing right in front of it when it closed. I have seen this happen, so trust me! It’s also a good idea to make sure your watch (or cellphone, whatever you use) is accurate to within a minute. This really helps when you’re asked to decide at the reservation counter if you want a ticket on the the train that departs in 10 minutes. Making the right decision there can help you save considerable time.

Continue reading Two-Day Hiroshima and Miyajima trip from Tokyo – Part I