Thursday 15 July 2010


I went to see #Predators yesterday and I am in two minds as to what I think about it. I came out feeling a little, unimpressed, but maybe I am being unfair. I think, I could argue both ways about this film. I am a huge fan of Predator and I think this is part of the problem, as with many films these days that are either based on or remakes of classic films.

OK, when the film started, I was excited to begin with, especially as they were using the music from the original film, which I really loved and it got you in the mood for something, hopefully, like the first film. It was interspersed with new music to make it a bit unique, which was fine. This was a great touch!

The introduction of the characters by dropping them in from 'somewhere' seemed like a good a way as any to start. The basis that they had been abducted to be dumped in this game reserve for hunting fits in well with the likely lifestyle of a Predator. You can easily imagine this race of hunters, who devote their lives to becoming the best and most feared hunters, doing something like this to hone their skills and train their young. And picking the best of different species of life from around the galaxy would be the greatest way to advance their knowledge and technology.

But, it soon began to annoy me that if this bunch of people we were being introduced to were meant to be representing the best of the best of Mankind in terms of warriors, then I was a little unimpressed. I don't know whether it was the acting or the scripting, but they didn't come across to me as what I imagine the best of the best. They seemed all too the usual Hollywood swaggering, big gun totting, tough guys, rather than the probably quite introverted and skilled people I imagine. (and where was the British SAS guy?)

Anyway, I think it was probably lack of research into what an elite group of people would be like. Hosing down anything that moved with a mini-gun is not what I would expect from a Spetznaz soldier. These people just didn't act or talk or move like I think they should have. 

I just think the casting wasn't great. The lead role guy annoyed me in his demeanour and just didn't come across as the elitist he was supposed to be. A cast of mostly unknowns is never a good sign, sometimes it works, but not this time. 

But anyway, on with the story. As I said, it is a good film on its own, looking into one part of the Predators life. Half of me is trying hard to convince myself of this, the other half is just saying, it was another excuse to put Predators on the screen killing people. Don't get me wrong, I love to see this. I don't know why I am doubting it though.

There were quite a lot of homages to the original Predator, which was fun to spot but also a bit cheesy and dissapointing that they seemed to be relying on this rather than creating its own story and cool bits without the need to basically copy things from the original. Biggest example for me was when the Chinese guy decided to make a last stand whilst the hero, female and injured guy escape (another homage - Dutch, Anne and Poncho in the end). They played the exactly the same music, had him strip his top off and cast it away, then even using the same camera angle at his belt level when he withdrew his sword and then cut his chest and await the Predator. Too much!

Why would a 'good' film need to do this? A second film with different characters in a different situation in a different place should not be somehow playing out the exact same motions as someone else. This to me is just to somehow please fans so they could say, 'oo its just like the original'. But by doing this, to me, it says this film is not good enough on its own.

Some homages were good, such as the voices saying 'over here' and 'turn around'. These were what made the original tense and it worked again for me, but then I alos think...why the same words in the same tone... it just cries 'not good enough to think of something original'.

And what the fuck was Laurence Fishburne's character all about?? That was the most weird and pointless bit of the film to me. That whole sequence could have been left out and it would have absolutely no consequence to the film's storyline. It could have been very good, a previous victim, somehow surviving on his own, learning about the Predators and how to evade them and fight them, but he was just portrayed a raving loony who tried to kill them then just got shot ever so easily by a Predator. After evading them for '10 seasons' he seemed very easily killed. Very disappointing.

Ah the traps in the beginning of the films set up by the dead man they found...again, they were all like they were pulled off the set of Predator. Just unnecessary. And the words spoken about 'a firefight'.... 'they were shooting in all directions' Too much.

The Predators themselves; as with a lot of horror films about monsters, showing too much just tends to spoil the effect. The original films pulled it off. I don't know how but it did. It was gradual, but in the end you saw the whole thing. I think only Kevin Peter Hall can pull off moving like a Predator. Maybe just because he was the original and there is nothing else to compare to that before the first, but he moved so well. The other films that have Predators in them (abominations which shall remain nameless) just don't seem to have the right gate or style. They look clumsy and like they are uncomfortable or something. Not like agile extreme fighting beings.

It was really cool to see a bunch of them, as in reality they would all look different and dress individually, but again, its weird, unless they look like the original Predator, they just don't look right. The main bad Predator, just looked a bit too much like he had rubber mandibles. 

And of course at the end, the guy covered in mud.... sigh, I guess you could argue that yes its the only way to disguise your heat signature from them, but please, he just looked like some nerd playing 'I'm Arnie'. No one will ever look as cool as Arnie did in that film! From start to end, Arnie was my childhood idol in that film.

I seem to not have enjoyed this film. I did and I didn't. I just think nothing will match the effect of the original film. I am sure (hope) that the film makers were huge fans like me and wanted to make something new and cool about Predators, but it just failed to impress me. I really want to love it and anything to do with Predators, but I just think no one can make the right movie that captures the coolness of what the Predators are. 

It as meant to be a sequel to the first, in the same style as the first. I don't see how it a sequel at all. Also its only like the first because they basically copied a lot of the first and in my opinion relied on that too much. 

I just think if a real fan made a film about the Predator, it would be much better. I think to many people have just seen $$$ signs flashing before them when using the name of Predator (and Aliens in exactly the same way).

There really needs to be some law that allows the original creators of something like Predator or Aliens to have a say in whether new films can be made or not as it is potentially going to ruin the reputation of the originals for the sake of a quick buck and then into the bargain basement of some DVD store.

If I am being too harsh please leave a comment, I would love to hear counter-thought and also praise for this film.

On a side note, a nerdy one too, when they broke cover and saw the sky for the first time and realised that they were on an alien planet, it looked like the usual bad science mistake of a moon or small planet that is supposed to look like it has been hit by a meteor or something and broken it up as it appears as a shattered moon with all bits just floating near each other in a suspended state or something... this just wouldn't happen! 

Sunday 11 July 2010

My Simple Ubuntu Home Server

I wanted to set up a simple home server properly for a long time. Just something that would serve up my media files and give me somewhere to permanently set up some samba shares where any computer can access and store data. I also wanted to continue to be able to backup my (this) website at home. This I was doing using a simple NAS drive connected to my router. I could just FTP into it from the web server and mirror the server as a backup.

The things that bothered me about the current backup strategy was a) FTP is not very secure and b) I had only one NAS drive and no permanent automatic way of duplicating that drive in case it failed. I had a spare USB enclosure and HDD which I will use as the backup of the backup.

I had recently acquired an old Dell Latitude C640 which would do the job just nicely. I planned to do the following to start:

Installing the Operating System

I only had an 8.04 Hardy Server Edition CD to hand so I installed that. The laptop does not boot off USB as I would otherwise just have downloaded and created a bootable 10.04 USB drive. I also did not have a CD burner to hand.

I won't go through all the installation procedure as that's all pretty self explanatory. Once I had the base system installed I needed to get from 8.04 to 10.04 to get the latest version.

First I did:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

to get everything up to date. I then had to edit the update-manager config:

sudo vi /etc/update-manager/release-upgrades

Then find the line containing prompt=lts and change it to prompt=normal. Save and close, then run:

sudo do-release-upgrade

This updated to the next version, in my case 8.10. Obviously a reasonably good broadband connection will be required to download the c.300-500 MB upgrades between each distro. I repeated this until I got to the latest version, 10.04, Lucid Lynx. This may seem tedious but is the correct and neatest way to do it.

Once I got to 10.04, I ran sudo apt-get clean to remove old release installations files.

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Setting up SSH

I wanted to set up SSH to be secure, using public keys.

I wanted to remove password authentication to the server and only allow non-root, key access.

I editted /etc/ssh/sshd_config and checked the following lines:

PermitRootLogin no
PasswordAuthentication no
UsePAM no

I then created a key pair using ssh-keygen -t rsa. This creates a pair of keys, one public and one private in /home/user/.ssh. Ensure that directory is there before starting.

To use keys to log in via ssh, the server needs a copy of your public key in its /home/user/.ssh/authorized_keys2 so before you lock yourself out by disabling password authentication, scp the public key to the server, then append the contents of the key to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2 by, for example, cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2. Be careful, using '>>' and not '>'; '>>' will append to the file, whereas '>' will replace everything in the file, i.e. loosing any other keys already in there.

Once the public key is put into authorized_keys2, restart the ssh service: sudo /etc/init.d/sshd restart. Then try and log into the server again, this time it should prompt you for your key 'passphrase'. If you still have password authentication enabled and you forget or get the passphrase wrong, it will prompt you for your regular password.

More information on setting up ssh keys can be found here.

Whilst on ssh, I also set up keys to access the server from my webserver. The same process again for regular ssh access. But I also wanted to setup a second key, which would just be used for backing up my webserver using rsync over ssh. The second key would have no passphrase, so could be run as part of a cron job to back up my webserver without the need to enter a passphase.

This sounds a bit insecure but I added a bit of security to this setup by adding a rule in the authorized_keys2 file on my home server.

Looking at the contents of authorized_keys2, you will see entries for the public keys on seperate lines. Something like this:

ssh-rsa AKSIDEJE...[long string of random characters]...==user@domain

I added a rule in front of the key that is to be used by the backup script:

from="ip.addy.of.webserver" ssh-rsa AKSIDEJE...[long string of random characters]...==user@domain

This means that this key will only be allowed access if the request is coming from the specified IP address. So the only way to get that is to log onto my web server, which will require a key and passphrase to access as well first. So hopefully secure enough.

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Setting Up External USB Hard Drives

The laptop's internal HDD is pretty small at 20 GB by today's standards and I know I have at least c.140 GB of data to store, so my only option was to use external HDDs. Well of course I could have replaced the internal HDD with a bigger one and just had one external USB HDD but that would mean buying a new drive and I already had a couple of spare 250 GB 5.25" HDDs, which would do the job for now.

The NAS could become a simple USB enclosure and I just needed to buy an empty USB HDD enclosure for the second one.

My problem with this route of external USB HDDs was that they really would need USB 2.0 ports to connect to on the laptop if it was to be of any use. The laptop only had one USB 1.1 port. So I bought a PCMCIA USB 2.0 adaptor, which would provide me with USB 2.0 ports.

Someone worth noting here; the first PCMCIA adaptor I bought was some unknown, cheap, made in China copy and this simply did not work. It would allow me to mount the USB HDDs and browse them but as soon as I started trying to transfer data through to the drives, the computer would crash. Every time I tried to rsync data (or FTP) from anywhere (remote or from internal HDD) through the USB adaptor, it would make the computer just lock up, with a hard reset the only option.

For a while I thought it just wasn't going to work via a PCMCIA adaptor, but I thought I would just try another adaptor in case I had a dodgy one. So I bought a more well known branded one, a D-Link one, and thankfully, this worked. So my lesson was that the cheapest option sometimes just doesn't work.

Before setting up the permanent mount of the two drives, the old NAS drive had to be reformatted to ext3. It was currently FAT (or NTS can't remember now) and I didn't want that. It also had all my data on it, so I manually mounted both temporarily and used rsync to copy all the data from the old NAS drive to the other, which was already ext3.

I then formatted the old NAS drive using fdisk:

sudo fdisk /dev/sdb #logical name of freecom drive
d #to delete partiton
n #new partition
p #primary partition
1 # partition number
1 #when asked about cylinder start 'from 1 to max'
enter to accept default maximum cylinder
w #write changes

I then used mkfs to format the new partition to ext3:

sudo mkfs -t ext3 /dev/sdb1

I then used rsync to copy all the data back to this drive as this was now the primary 'media drive'. I now had two copies of my data on two drives.

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Mounting External USB HDDs Permanently

To mount the drives automatically every time the server boots, you just need to put some simple entries into /etc/fsab. The best way to refer to the drives is by their UUIDs so there is no confusion with another other drive that may arrive on your system bearing the same label.

To find out the UUIDs of the two drives, mount them somewhere temporarily and then:

ls -l /dev/disk/by-uuid/

This should produce an output similar to this:

lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 2010-06-08 19:28 2cfda077-e676-4832-80b2-aad33963136b -> ../../sda1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 2010-06-08 19:26 5b3df31b-5e75-47d7-886d-dc35722189b2 -> ../../sda5
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 2010-06-08 19:26 8a7d8e21-4def-4b00-8595-e1baae916b54 -> ../../sdb1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 2010-06-08 19:26 a85c00fc-abc3-405f-bd84-6447b8b094ce -> ../../sdc1

sda* is the internal HDD, sdb* and sdc* are the two USB HDDs. You can double check with sudo fdisk -l to help be sure which drive is which.

Set up mount points. I created a directory in home called 'media' where I would mount the media drive and another directory in /mnt called 'backup250gb' for the backup drive. Then edit /etc/fstab and add the following lines:

UUID=8a7d8e21-4def-4b00-8595-e1baae916b54       /home/jonr/media  ext3    defaults   0   0
UUID=a85c00fc-abc3-405f-bd84-6447b8b094ce       /mnt/backup250gb  ext3    defaults   0   0

This now mounted the drives where specified every time on boot.

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Automatic Web Server Backup

In a previous blog post, I explained how I was using lftp to do a mirror of my web server to a NAS drive at home as I could only access the NAS drive via ftp.

Of course, now I have a small server running I can use better (more secure) methods. I wanted to set up rsync as the means to perform the backup.

After a few trial runs, using the --dry-run option of rsync to ensure everything was working, I editted my backup script like so:

#Backup script for server

#set variable of date for labelling
date=`date +%F`

cd /home/jonr/backupdata/

#remove oldest mysql backup
rm `ls -t *mysql* | tail -n 1`

#Dump mysql databases
mysqldump --all-databases > /home/jonr/backupdata/${date}_mysql_backup

rsync -ave 'ssh -i /home/jonr/.ssh/backupkey' --delete --exclude g2data/tmp /home/jonr/ addy.home.server:/home/jonr/media/.jcrdev/home-backup
rsync -ave 'ssh -i /home/jonr/.ssh/backupkey' --delete /var/www/ addy.home.server:/home/jonr/media/.jcrdev/varwww-backup

The '-i' option for ssh specifies which key to use.

The rsync options:

-a for archive mode
-v for verbose output
-e to specify ssh command

So this is rsync'ing the parts of my web server I want to backup directly to the mounted media drive on my home server. I run this as a cron job once a week.

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Backing up the Media Drive

To add redundancy to the system, in case the media drive ever fails, the backup drive is there to simply be a mirror of the media drive, so once a week I run another simple script on the server using rsync:

#Back up whole media external USB HDD to secondary external USB HDD

rsync -av /home/jonr/media/ /mnt/backup250gb


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Setting up Samba

I simply edited /etc/samba/smb.conf and added:

    interfaces =,
    bind interfaces only = yes
    hosts allow =, #plus any other IP addresses I want to allow access
    hosts deny =
    security = user

        comment = Music Share
        path = /home/jonr/media/music
        read only = no
        browseable = yes

This set-up allowed only my laptop on to connect, any other will be denied.  security = user means only users with an account on the server can access it.

Browsing to 'network' in Nautilus showed me my server, and when accessing it, prompted my for username, then i could see the share.

The other way I could access this share is by mounting it using a command similar to this:

 // /home/jonr/Music    cifs    credentials=/root/.smbcredentials,iocharset=utf8,f    ile_mode=0777,dir_mode=0777   0   0

Where credentials=/root/.smbcredentials is a file containing username and password for the share. This mounts the music share into my Music folder in my home directory.

I set up a few other directories on the server to be mountable via smb by just replicating the section in smb.conf with different directory settings.

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Setting up MPD

What I wanted was to be able to remote control the server to play music, that would be output from the physical server, which I would then plug into a home stereo system, thereby having my music collection available to play through the home sound system, rather than through computer speakers. I wanted it to be a web based thing, so that any computer could just open a web browser and play music.

This was much simpler than I expected.

sudo apt-get install mpd
Then edit /etc/mpd.conf and just adjusted the following lines to suit my needs:

music_directory     "/home/jonr/media/music"
playlist_directory      "/home/jonr/media/music/playlists"
bind_to_address     ""

I had to chmod 777 the playlist directory so that the music player of my choice could write playlists to it.

Browser MPD Player

There are many different clients available to control an MPD daemon, but I specifically wanted a web based one, so after a bit of looking around, found many alternatives, so settled for trying phpmpreloaded.

Installation was as simple as unpacking the downloaded tar into the directory of your choice, probably /var/www/ so you can just access it from ip.address.of.server/9099 as default. This presents you with a choise of players that come with the installation. I prefer the first one.

It is very basic, but this is good as it works well from my phone too. But I can very simply browse by file or tag and search easily and then build and save playlists.


When it came to testing the player out, I struggled for a while to get any sound. After a lot of fiddling with wires in different configurations, I eventually discovered that the headphones socket (yes headphones out only unfortunately) wasn't putting any sound out when connected to headphones.

After a bit of digging around I eventually installed a simple little command line program called 'aumix'. This simply allowed me to turn on the (currently off) volume and we had MUSIC!

Very pleasing that I can now just flip to a certain input on the home cinema, and just browse with any device to the web address and control the music!

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Setting up Rhythmbox Library

One more thing to do with music I needed to get setup was getting Rhythmbox on my netbook to use the music samba share as its library source. The main reason for this was so that I could use Rhythmbox to sync music from the collection to my wife's iPhone.

I found that mounting the music samba share by using Nautilus or the Places menu 'connect to server' would not allow Rhythmbox to use the share as its library but using the mounting code described in the samba section above, it worked. So I could just mount the music share whenever I wanted with a simple script containing that mounting command or put it into my netbook's fstab to do it automatically every time.

Ubuntu 10.10  claims iPhone support and I can confirm, yes it does! I just plugged the phone into a USB port and it opened up a Nautilus window so you can browse the disk as with any USB storage device. Opening Rhythmbox and I can see the iPhone under the Devices list on the left.

Syncing music is as simple as finding the music in the library and drag-n-dropping it onto the iPhone device. Progress is shown in the status bar at the bottom. Simple!

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