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Oculus Rift Over Fibre Optic

Well here’s a niche article if ever there was one.

In our recording studios, we have no computers. Rather, the computers are kept in a separate room, connected to each studio by a mixture of analogue audio cabling, CAT5e and fibre optic. The fibre is used for FireWire and any display connectivity we may need, using whichever converters are suitable.

This results in super-silent rooms with no whirring or squeaking or clicking, but it does present some odd challenges. Not all conversion systems are made equal and not all devices will happily get along with the adapters we use, for whole host of reasons. So when we started exploring the world of immersive 3D with Oculus Rift, I suspected I may have some headaches.

Display Chatter

Adding a new display in most places involves nothing more than plugging it in, but in our setup we first have to program the transmission end of the fibre converter with the EDID of the display we’re about to use. This way the computer knows what it’s talking to without actually being connected to the real thing. Seeing as the Rift’s video is nothing more than a display on a HDMI cable, you might assume that the same technique would work just fine. This is not the case.

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Failed Core Storage Conversion

We have a Mac mini connected to an external storage box via FireWire. In a reasonably sensible manner, someone pointed Time Machine at one of the volumes on the DAS, thinking they should back the machine up to this location. They also thought also it would be best to encrypt the backup; very laudable.

However, this triggered a conversion process into an Apple Core Storage volume, which did not complete successfully. Luckily, OS X stopped trying and remounted the volume as HFS+. All appeared to be well, but after a reboot things were much less cheerful.

On restarting the machine, the volume was missing. Checking with diskutil list returned this layout:

/dev/disk1
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:      GUID_partition_scheme                        *17.6 TB    disk1
   1:                        EFI EFI                     209.7 MB   disk1s1
   2:                  Apple_HFS Backup                  2.0 TB     disk1s2
   3:          Apple_CoreStorage                         15.6 TB    disk1s3
   4:                 Apple_Boot Boot OS X               134.2 MB   disk1s4

But diskutil cs list returned this:

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Running pfSense on a Mac Pro

I’m a big fan of pfSense. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s an open source firewall that’s got more options that you can shake a stick at, but most importantly, is as solid as a rock and takes about a second to back up.

I’d been running it as a virtual machine on a couple of servers, but with a recent round of hardware changes I found myself with a 2006 vintage Mac Pro with no job to do. True, it’s massively overpowered for the job, but it’s got two good gigabit Intel NICs built-in and would make the VM setup, which I never liked, redundant. Plus, it would otherwise be sat on the floor doing nothing.

Setup

It’s trivial; I prepped the Mac with a single 80GB hard drive and zapped the PRAM just to be on the safe side (CMD-ALT-P-R). Then I burned the AMD64 image to a disc, booted the Mac with ALT held down and chose the ‘Windows’ CD. It’s obviously not Windows; that’s just what the Mac is programmed to title boot devices that aren’t OS X.

From there it’s just a case of choosing the installer when prompted and telling it to do a ‘Quick / Easy Install’. Everything from there is handled by pfSense, except for removing the CD (hold down the left mouse button to force a CD eject on reboot). Very easy.

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