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    How To Build a Home Server Using FreeNAS

    I've been running home servers in one form or another for about a decade. For me, the server has shifted from a convenience--a place to store files that I want to access anywhere and an easy way to stream music to the office for free--to a necessity. Today, my home server is a place to back up my family’s computers and the home for all of my media--a few hundred ripped DVDs and Blu-rays plus my family’s music collection and all of the photos and home videos we’ve shot. Like any other server, it also serves as a good place to store the files I need access to all the time, as well as host any services that work better when they’re always running—stuff like dynamic DNS, streaming servers, and game servers.

    My first home server was simply an old gaming PC that I repurposed by installing Linux and setting up a few shared folders and an FTP server so I had access to files at home when I was at the office or travelling. For the last five or six years, I’ve been running a lightweight Windows Home Server v1 machine packed with hard drives. The WHS box had some real advantages—it’s novel filesystem made it so simple to add storage that I eventually ended up with about 8TB of available space. Unfortunately, its ancient Celeron processor was woefully underpowered to stream 1080p video, and the OS has been effectively abandoned by Microsoft.

    Photo credit: Flickr user kwl via Creative Commons.

    When I decided to build a new server late last year, the first thing I did was figure out what I wanted to use it for. Easy backups for a handful of Macs (and one PC) across the network was a must. I also wanted a machine that would be able to stream all of my media--using Plex Media Server to stream ripped movies and TV shows and Subsonic to stream my music collection. I needed a safe and secure place to store my personal media--photos and home videos I've shot. Finally, I wanted to offload the heavy lifting of DVD and Blu-ray transcoding from my main desktop PC, and the ability to add new stuff to the machine that I haven’t even thought of yet.

    When I was deciding what operating system to use for my next home server, I investigated a handful of Linux options, briefly considered Windows Home Server 2011, and finally settled on FreeNAS, which is a customized version of FreeBSD. FreeNAS makes it relatively simple to set up a multi-purpose machine that can run headless—that is, without a video card or monitor connected. After taking FreeNAS for a test drive in a virtual machine, I was sold. As an added benefit, FreeNAS’s native filesystem, ZFS, makes it easy to add multiple hard drives to a single volume, and even supports using a SSD as a smart cache for the volume. And yes, if you want, you can even add redundancy to the system (I don’t recommend it, but we’ll get into that later).

    Figuring out the hardware for the FreeNAS machine was tricky. While you can buy dedicated network-attached storage devices that come pre-configured with FreeNAS, none of the options in my price range had the kind of high-powered CPU I was hoping for. After spending the last two years wishing my server was faster, my goal is to make this motherboard and CPU last at least five years, maybe more. Knowing that, the option I was left with was to build a machine and install FreeNAS on it myself.

    First, I had to figure out the hardware part.

    How To Keep Your Android 5.0 Lollipop Phone Secure

    Android has come a long way with regard to security in the last few years. Not only can you more easily secure your device to protect personal data, there are more tools that make all your other devices and accounts safe. Of course, none of that does you any good if you aren't taking advantage of it. Let's go over everything you can do to make Android as secure as it can be.

    Lock Screen and Pinning

    Some of your built-in security options will vary from one device to the next depending on OEM and Android version. As Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to roll out en masse, it's worth going over the new security features you'll find. One of the most significant changes is the way the lock screen is handled. It will show your notifications by default, and if you choose to have a pattern, PIN, or password, lock, you can restrict which notifications show up there.

    In Lollipop, you can control which apps contain "sensitive" content in the sound and notification menu. Under "App Notifications" you'll find a list of everything installed on your phone. Each entry includes an option to mark it as sensitive, which keeps it from showing up on the lock screen. No matter what version of Android you have, the secure lock screen is your first line of defense. Some OEMs like LG and Samsung add extra unlock methods like Knock Code and the fingerprint reader, respectively. If security is even a passing concern, you should use one of the available methods.

    So what if you don't want to enter your unlock code every single time? On all recent versions of Android there's a handy little feature in the Security menu. The "Automatically Lock" setting lets you choose how long after the screen goes off that the secure lock should kick in. There's also a toggle to have the power button automatically lock or not. This way you can wake up your phone a few times without entering the password constantly. However, if you leave it sitting for a certain amount of time, it locks.

    Android 5.0 Lollipop adds a new set of lock screen features called Smart Lock. You can set a location, device, or face that the phone will consider "trusted." When this criteria is met, you can just swipe to unlock. Location is straightforward--simply choose a location and the phone will remain unlocked there but will revert to your secure lock screen when it leaves. The trusted device setting lets you mark a Bluetooth or NFC connection as trusted so when that device is connected, the phone will unlock without asking for your code.

    Building a Home Server for Backups and Ripping Blu-Rays

    For the past few months, Will has been researching a build for a new home server for personal backups and media streaming. In addition to housing terrabytes of data, the server Will ended up building also doubles as an efficient DVD and Blu-ray ripping machine, automating heavy transcoding tasks. We discuss the build and give software and hardware recommendations for anyone looking to build their own! Read more about the project here.

    Biomimetics: Lessons from MIT's Sprinting Cheetah Robot

    There’s an entire field of science that believes nature and evolution have already solved some of humanity’s most complicated problems. Called biomimetics, the field focuses on studying these natural solutions and attempting to copy them, rebuild them, and use them in ways that can benefit mankind. Over the next few weeks, we’re profiling US laboratories that specialize in biomimicry and highlighting how the animal kingdom is helping humans innovate.

    The best movers in the world are animals, so why do all of our transportation modes rely on wheels and not legs? That’s the question that inspires the work at MIT’s Biomimetics lab. According to Sangbae Kim, an associate professor at the lab, their main goal is to develop walking robots that move as well as any animal -- and shape how all robots move in the future.

    They decided the best inspiration for locomotion would be to find the fastest moving animal on Earth and mimic its makeup in robot legs. Enter the cheetah. Capable of speeds up to about 64 miles per hour, the big cat outpaces all other running animals in the world (except, perhaps, the Paratarsotomus macropalpis -- a beetle the size of a sesame seed that can run 322 body-lengths per second compared to the Cheetah’s 16.)

    “Each animal has their advantage, but the cheetah uses speed as a survival skill. It doesn’t have many other skills -- it’s jaws aren’t very strong -- the only thing it’s good at is speed. And that’s why we can identify it’s mechanical features. We’re looking at it’s leg shape, mass distribution, the joints they’re using, and their gait,” says Kim.

    The cats are also incredibly good at changing direction at high speed. Their unique muscular makeup allows them to use their tail to pivot at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, says Kim, cheetahs are endangered so they can’t study one in the lab. The team has learned about the cats’ unique abilities by watching nature videos and reading studies by the few scientists that have had the chance to study them.

    “We read papers about them. Researchers at Royal College in England they recorded forces and slow motion in a captive cheetah. We take inspiration from videos and learn mechanical aspects like how they achieve a stable running,” he says.

    What they’ve learned is that the animal’s leg shape is essential: it has a slender leg and all of its muscles are concentrated up next to its body. That way they minimize their energy use and maximize the swing of their legs.

    Pleurobot Mimics the Movements of a Salamander

    From the EPFL Biorobotics Laboratory, a robot that mimics the skeletal movements of a Salamander to help researchers develop richer motor skills for quadruped robots: "Tracking up to 64 points on a Salamander skeleton, we were able to record three-dimensional movements of bones in great detail. Using optimization on all the recorded postures we deduced the number and position of active and passive joints needed for the robot to reproduce the animal movements in reasonable accuracy in three-dimensions." (h/t IEEE Spectrum)

    In Brief: More Details on Sony's New Morpheus Prototype

    At Sony's GDC press conference, the company announced and showed off a second public prototype of its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, which will ship to consumers in the first half of next year. The PlayStation 4 accessory now uses a 5.7-inch 1080p OLED display with an RGB subpixel arrangement, running at 120Hz. That's a big upgrade from the 60Hz LCD panel we saw in last year's prototype, and 120Hz should allow for low persistence. While 120FPS is the target framerate for the device, developers will be angle to render at 60Hz and output to the HMD at 120Hz. The PS4 uses HDMI 1.4, which can drive 1080p at 120Hz, but not 1440p at that refresh rate. Field of view is listed at 100 degrees, and positional head tracking is assisted by nine IR LEDs. Sony says that latency is under 18ms, which they claim is good enough for the sensation of presence. We'll be trying the new prototype and the four demos built for it at the GDC show floor tomorrow.

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    A Brief History of Net Neutrality

    Short and to-the-point primer about the history of net neutrality from The Verge: "In the wake of net neutrality's victory, we look back at the history of its fight in this visual history explainer." For more reading about the history of the fight for net neutrality, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation's landing page on the topic. (Support those electrons!)

    Google Play App Roundup: iA Writer, Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire, and Chrooma

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    This week there are fewer distractions, more magic, and a moderate number of FABs.

    iA Writer

    I fancy myself a writer, as you might have guessed. I've been doing it for a long time using a variety of programs on the desktop and mobile devices. There are a few apps out there designed to combat distracted while writing, but iA Writer is probably one of the most popular. It's been on Mac and iOS for a while, but now it has come to Android. I'm going to write this post in iA Writer to see how it goes because I'm not sure I'm sold on this low-distraction thing.

    iA Writer offers a bare bones interface, but it's not really lacking in functionality. This app simply courses very carefully the features it thinks you need. When you've got the keyboard up, iA Writer gifts the action bar completely. There's a small menu icon that can pull it back up, but if you're using iA Writer the way it was intended, that shouldn't come up much. The idea is that you just write, and take your hands (or thumbs) off the keyboard as little as possible.

    There are no formatting controls in iA Writer. Instead, it uses markdown in plain text documents. So you still have things like italics and lists, but you enter them with special characters like asterisks and underscores. The app does change the formatting as you go so you'll know if you've entered things correctly.

    In the action bar you have undo and redo buttons, share, new document, and focus mode. You can probably figure out what all those do except for focus mode, but the name is self-explanatory. Turn this on and iA Writer will gray out every sentence except the one you're working on. It's supposed to help you focus, thus focus mode.

    iA Writer outputs, as mentioned above, plain text documents. The default format is a .md file, which you can open in a variety of ways. The share button can also be used to export your text in a variety of ways. iA Writer also has built-in Dropbox sync so you can keep your files safe in the cloud.

    This app could be a great way to stay on task if you're prone to distraction, and it's really snappy. All the Android keyboard auto-correction features and spell checking works fine as well. I don't know if I'll use iA Writer full-time on Android, but i appreciate the effort that went into making this a proper Android version and not simply a messy iOS port. It's worth the $4.99 asking price if distraction-free writing is what you seek.

    The First SteamVR Headset is the HTC Vive

    And we're off to the races. Ahead of this week's Game Developer Conference, phone maker HTC announced that it would be manufacturing Valve's SteamVR virtual reality headset, named Vive. The news came during Mobile World Congress, where competitor Samsung also announced a second GearVR headset for its upcoming Galaxy S6 smartphones (lighter, USB-power). While Vive will be presumably demoed for the press and public at GDC, we're already getting details about how this HMD and VR experience will differ from Oculus. Vive uses two 1200x1080 displays running at 90Hz, as opposed to the 75Hz OLED display on the current Oculus Development Kit 2. The use of two screens theoretically offers a wider field of view than the DK2, with the same vertical resolution. Oculus hasn't said what display or lens technology is in its Crescent Bay prototype, which also runs at 90Hz.

    In addition to your typical IMU sensors for 360 degree positional tracking, Vive will also connect to a 'SteamVR base station' that allows tracking in spaces up to 15 by 15 feet. That's a lot larger than the tracking area we've seen in the Crescent Bay demo from last Fall, and Oculus hasn't confirmed that its consumer product would be designed for anything but a sitting experience. Audio will be provided by an headphone jack on the headset, and HTC is developing wireless motion controllers for gaming.

    Developer support wasn't a big part of the announcement, but Valve announced its unified VR API a year ago and has been working with game developers to produce demos for GDC. One anticipated demo is The Gallery by Cloudhead Games, an adventure game that makes use of room tracking.

    Valve and HTC say that a developers kit will be available this spring, with Vive shipping by the end of the year. I don't see this affecting Oculus' product timeline or production plans, but between SteamVR, Razer's OSVR initiative, and Sony's Morpheus project, the VR landscape is already feeling crowded before a single mainstream consumer product has shipped (GearVR counting as a dev kit). John Carmack's recent tweet may give the most indication about how team Oculus feels about their position in VR enthusiast mind share.

    Photo Gallery: Adam Savage's Overlook Hotel Maze Model

    A few photos from the build, as well as the pictures from our photo session before shipping Adam's Overlook Maze model off to the next stop of the <a href="http://www.stanleykubrick.de/en/ausstellungstour-exhibition-on-tour/">Stanley Kubrick travelling exhibition</a> in Mexico!

    RC Transmitter Guide: The Basics of Computer Radio Systems

    Once the RC bug has bitten and you know that you’ll be in the hobby for a while, buying a good quality computer radio system is one of the best investments that you can make. These radios have onboard processors that enrich them with many features not usually found on “dumb” units. The benefits of some of these features are self-evident, such as the ability to use the same transmitter for multiple models. Other features found on computer radios are a bit tougher to grasp. Consequently, many modelers simply ignore them—and forfeit some very useful capabilities.

    A COMPUTER RADIO PROVIDES MANY OPTIONS FOR TAILORING HOW THE SYSTEM PERFORMS. NO MATTER WHICH BRAND YOU CHOOSE, IT IS A WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT FOR SERIOUS MODELERS.

    Today, I will cover a few of the basic features that are afforded by computer transmitters: what they are and how/when they are helpful. I won’t be covering any specifics on how to program these features on your particular radio--that’s what the owner’s manual is for. My focus will be on radios for aircraft, but surface computer radios (for cars and boats) share many of the same features!

    How Many Channels Do You Need?

    Most computer radio systems have six or more channels, with 6-channel models being very popular among rookie hobbyists. Up until recently, I would have endorsed that decision. Now I suggest going with no less than seven channels – preferably eight. The reason for my change of heart is that the average flying model is evolving into an ever more complex machine.

    A 6-CHANNEL RADIO MAY NOT BE ENOUGH IF YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN COMPLEX MODELS SUCH AS THIS WARBIRD. CONSIDER BUYING MORE RADIO THAN YOU NEED NOW TO HEDGE YOUR BETS.

    Powered aircraft need no more than four channels to fly (pitch, roll, yaw, & throttle). Additional operations (retractable landing gear, flaps, lost model alarms, lighting systems, sound systems, gimbals, gyros, bomb releases, etc.) are becoming much more prevalent in off-the-shelf models, and they require additional channels to make them function. These add-ons aren’t necessary to fly, but they sure are fun. So why should your radio keep you from enjoying them? I know several flyers who initially purchased a 6-channel radio, only to upgrade a few months later. Consider where your RC interests might lead and invest in a radio that will accommodate those needs.

    In Brief: Shift Accessory Adds Motion-Tracking to Quadcopters

    Shift is an upcoming quadcopter accessory from Perceptive Labs that adds a video tracker on top of a DJI Phantom or 3D Robotics Iris drone and takes control of camera tilting and panning for automated tracking shots. The $800 accessory ($600 during the pre-order period) adds a small 200 camera system to a quad, processes that video and sends it to a tethered tablet, where you can mark any point in its field of view for tracking. Software subject tracking is all done with an onboard processor, and the Shift connects to your quad flight controller to automate camera and the quad's yaw. Tracking in the video samples look smooth enough, but I'm still skeptical about Shift's ability to compensate for unexpected quad movement, as anyone who's tried to film a smooth panning shot with a Phantom could relate. Also, some of this functionality could be done purely with software, utilizing telemetry information from the quad and your phone as a tracking beacon. That's exactly the kind of stuff that DJI wants developers to build when it opened up its Phantom SDK late last year. Watch the video promo for the Shift below. (h/t Techcrunch)

    Norman
    The Best Budget Gaming Laptop (So Far)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    There’s no such thing as a perfect budget gaming laptop, and every one we’ve tested so far has at least one serious flaw. But after 40 hours of research and testing, we determined that the $1,000 Asus ROG GL551JM is the budget gaming laptop we’d recommend for most people because it has the best gaming performance and best build quality among the competition, and for the lowest cost.

    The GL551 has uncommonly good build quality compared to nearly everything else in this category. Plus, it keeps the most important parts of a gaming laptop at a reasonable temperature—which cannot be said for the competition—and has a comfortable keyboard.

    Who’s this for?

    Expensive gaming laptops aren’t for everyone. Desktop computers offer better gaming performance per dollar, and ultrabooks are slimmer, lighter, and have much better battery life. Budget gaming laptops are a good fit for students and others who want to play games but have a tight budget and need a portable PC.

    How did we pick what to test?

    First, we determined the best possible combination of components that fit in our budget. Our ideal budget gaming laptop costs under $1,200 and has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7 4700HQ CPU or higher, 8 to 16 GB of RAM, and at least 500GB of storage. We looked at every gaming laptop currently available, tested three finalists ourselves, and concluded that the Asus ROG GL551-JM DH71 is the best for those on a budget.

    In Brief: Pebble Time Smartwatch on Kickstarter

    Pebble, the most successful smartwatch so far, yesterday launched its second-generation product: Pebble Time. It's a much bigger advancement over the original Pebble than the Steel--Time uses a color e-paper display, is 20% thinner, has an integrated microphone, and utilizes a new timeline system for notifications. The new timeline software will make its way to previous Pebble models, too. Battery life is expected to be a full week, and the watch will retail for $200 ($180 on Kickstarter now, tax-free). The new watch debuted on Kickstarter, where funding after one day is already closing in on the $10.3 million campaign of the original Pebble. Timing for this pre-order is smart for Pebble, as the campaign will end just as Apple readies the launch of its Apple Watch. Even though Pebble won't be shipping Time until May, it'll have secured backers' dollars before April. Pebble Time works for both iOS and Android, though it won't have feature parity between the two platforms.

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    Tested In-Depth: Dell Venue 8 7000 Android Tablet

    Dell's new tablet isn't just one of the best-designed tablets we've used, it's our new favorite Android tablet. We discuss how the thin bezel and high-resolution OLED display affects content consumption, the differences between ARM and x86 on Android, and expected battery life for today's tablets.

    Biomimetics: Studying the Striking Power of the Mantis Shrimp

    There’s an entire field of science that believes nature and evolution have already solved some of humanity’s most complicated problems. Called biomimetics, the field focuses on studying these natural solutions and attempting to copy them, rebuild them, and use them in ways that can benefit mankind. Over the next few weeks, we’re profiling US laboratories that specialize in biomimicry and highlighting how the animal kingdom is helping humans innovate.

    Not many folks would look at a shrimp and call it the “crown jewel” of their research, but that’s exactly how David Kisailus refers to the Mantis shrimp, a crustacean that’s famous for its ability to, well, punch stuff to death. The unique properties of the animal’s boxing glove-like claw make it the perfect subject for unraveling the complex problem of impact resistance.

    Kisailus, who runs UC Riverside's Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab, explains: “The organism is smacking with more than 500 newtons of force and it’s only 4 inches long. It’s accelerating underwater faster than a 22 caliber bullet. It’s one of the fastest striking organisms on the planet. It impacts thousands of times. How can it do that and resist failure? That’s why we started studying it.”

    The mantis shrimp isn’t actually a shrimp, it’s actually a crustacean that earned its name from its shrimp-like body. The non-shrimp evolved 400 million years ago as a spear fisherman. It would hunt by shooting barbed spears at its soft-bodied prey. But its prey eventually evolved to avoid the dangers of the pointy killing method by growing shells and exoskeletons. So the Mantis shrimp had to evolve too, splitting off into a group that could use its elbow to smash open the prey that its cousins couldn’t spear. Though some still spear, the clubbing verson’s boxing glove (which still has a vestigial barb at the end) is made up of a series of highly complex and organized internal parts.

    Photo credit: Flickr user wwarby via Creative Commons.

    “It’s not your standard biological composite, which has just one component,” says Kisailus of why he is studying the material makeup of the shrimp’s punching claw. “Within the club are three separate regions and each has its own function.”

    Jamie's Racing Spiders, Episode 3: The Test

    It's an exercise in troubleshooting as Jamie and the Kernerworks crew try various last-minute tweaks to the not-quite-operational spiders in order to make them race-ready the next day. For additional behind-the-scenes footage, Jamie's original build notes and project photos, click here.