Monthly Archives: December 2007

Free Internet Node, Part 1 – Equipment and Location Evaluation

Okay, let’s get started. Remember, I am going to describe my actual approach and make more general comments to cover slightly different hardware and approaches. Please feel free to chime in by adding comments. (By the way, we have a few what-should-be-obvious rules for posting comments.)

The first step I took in setting up my own Internet node was to evaluate my potential equipment and locations. Depending on the amount of traffic I might expect, I would require different bandwidths and therefore would need to set up my equipment and choose my location accordingly.

Given my estimated low load of, say, under a hundred or so hits per hour, I decided to locate the node at my residence on its existing DSL line, noting that I could always scale upwards in case my traffic takes off or I add what become a popular website. I determined that I could get by with my existing 512 kilobits per second DSL modem and one of my old PCs as the Internet node. (DSL lines can actually go up to 1.5 megabits per second depending on your DSL service. You can test the speed of your current DSL connection.)

For reasons having to doing with noise and power consumption, I switched over later to a new eMachines mini-tower PC which cost me around $250 at Best Buy after all the rebates came back. Here’s another eMachines pricing sample along with some specifications directly from eMachines themselves.

Anyway, just make sure whatever PC you use is less than a couple of years old and, preferably, running XP Home or Pro. You can upgrade not too old PCs without any big hassles. Not to promote Windows XP too much, however you can optimize your security access, benefit from XP’s advanced features, and add hardware with minimal effort. (You can use older PCs running older versions of Windows such as Win98, but the end results will be sub par and your security will only be slightly better than nil.) The PC should have at least 20 gigabytes of available space, use an Intel-based processor running at least 2 GHz, and be very quiet if it is going to be within earshot. The latest version of an eMachines PC that I bought easily met this criteria.

What about Windows Vista? It may work well actually, but we did all of our work on Windows XP, and we haven’t found a compelling reason to upgrade. From what we hear, Windows Vista is a different animal when if comes to PC operating systems and there are incompatibilities with some software packages. All it would take is one small module not working to put a serious damper on things. Anyway, the incompatibilities with using Windows Vista may diminish greatly after Microsoft’s final release of Service Pack 1 (SP1) which is scheduled for early 2008 (a release candidate is available now). Anyway, I may post a Windows Vista report later since that is the operating system most easily accessible today. For now, downgrade to XP or just buy a used PC with Windows XP on eBay.

So, with my existing equipment of an older tower PC and a DSL line and modem all of which could already access the Internet, I encountered my first dilemma. The typical $30 DSL line to a residence (such as through SBC) requires a log in. Until your equipment logs in, you do not have an IP address. And should you have to log off (or be forced off) for any reason and then sign back in, you will have a different IP address.

Web servers, email servers and ftp servers are best located on a static IP address, a permanent address on the Internet that never changes. With the low cost residential DSL line with a dynamically allocated IP address, you would have to change some network parameters each time your IP address changes. (I am being vague about the “parameters” as that would be a digression, and I do not want to lose focus right now.) While that is possible, it is a technical pain, and, depending on the reliability of your DSL provider and your telephone lines, you might have to change the parameters several times a month. Also, your node will be down until your equipment logs back in and changes its parameters, maybe a good part of a day.

Fortunately, I found that I could upgrade to a static IP address for an extra $25 a month. I feel that paying such a small fee to not have to deal with changing IP addresses. If you disagree, you can explore the dynamic IP address route with either DSL or cable modems and let me know how it works out for you.

The change from a dynamically allocated to a statically allocated IP address took less than 48 hours. Since I use a LinkSys router, I did have to switch it over from PPPoE to Static IP Addressing. Note: This step is different for different routers but is typically achieved using your browser to access your router’s parameters at your local URL address

Thusly, I was able to evaluate my existing equipment and location and found both acceptable with the one change to switch over to a permanent IP address. I estimate this effort took about four hours of my time, most of which was dealing with the phone company and the router.

Next Up: Free Internet Node, Part 2 – Setting up the Internet Node PC

Free Internet Node, Introduction – How to Set Up a Free Internet Node & Web Server

Hello and Welcome! My name is “The Tarnz,” administrator and blogger ordinaire for, so please bear with me as I get things bootstrapped and organized. Feel free to make comments and I will respond when appropriate. (Thank you!)

Over the past couple of years, I have set up a node on the Internet equipped with a bunch of free services and technologies including:

  • web server
  • ftp server
  • email server
  • database engine
  • forum engine
  • blog publishing engine
  • PERL, PHP and other languages
  • a bunch of utility software tools

As you may imagine, I have been through a lot dealing with the hardware and so many software packages, so I thought I would share the experience and occasional challenges in case anyone else is geeky enough to set up their own free Internet Node.

Okay, maybe the node wasn’t completely free for the value of own efforts, the cost of any new domain name registrations, and the cost of a low-end Windows XP Home Desktop PC and, optional but highly recommended, a reliable Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). But it sure beats paying $200 to $2,000 a year to an ISP for what can often be very bad hosting. Any problems and enhancements are solely my own.

Today the node has a fully functional multiple-domain web server, email server, ftp server, database and blogging engines along with many fully-implemented technologies such as Perl, PHP, AJAX, SQL and more.

Whoa, wait a minute! A half-dozen, fully-implemented Internet services, for free, on an eMachines running XP Home? Surely, you jest, Tarnz ol’ boy! That’s the domain of IBM blade servers and other vertical niches rack mount hardware costing thousands of dollars!

Not necessarily. In the past few years, several new technological developments have made it possible. Severe cost-costing competition has led eMachines (owned now by Gateway) to release surprisingly high quality PC boxes for only a few hundred bucks. The release of Apache 2 for Windows (yes, free) turns an XP Home PC into a screaming top notch web server.

But that’s just the beginning. I still had to set up the email and ftp servers, deal with security and spam, develop a backup and restore plan, and handle the everyday maintenance issues that come up. Even though it has been some work, I find myself being rewarded in a number of ways – for example, understanding better the Internet, setting up the servers exactly the way I want, paying much less for domain names, website and email support. I will get into those particulars that too.

Disclaimer: This project is educational and is direct towards amateurs wanting to set up their own Internet node and learn the details about web and email servers and the like. Of course, we cannot be responsible for any problems you encounter, although if you post comments, we will do our best to help. If you are really concerned about reliability, uptime, providing services to clients, security and all that, you should have your service hosted by a mission critical ISP.

Setting up your own Internet server, or Internet Node as I call it since in actuality the node’s PC has running on it several different types of servers, is not for everyone. High volume and mission critical applications should be run in professional 24 x 7 installations. But if you are a consultant like me, then hosting your own Internet Node is less expensive, educational, and not necessarily any less reliable than what I have been encountering with several ISPs.

Anyway, if you stick with me, you will come to understand what I went through, and maybe my experience with embolden you to set up your own node as well. Or, maybe it will make you run to your nearest ISP?! If you do set up your own node, you might then share with me your deviations, enhancements and clever insights to make me smarter about all this too.

Next Up: Free Internet Node, Part 1 – Equipment and Location Evaluation

DataPlex unveils

As part of its ongoing study of Internet sales and optimization, DataPlex established, an online store with a specific marketing theme. Powered by several technologies from Google and, PrincessMania simplifies the selection of princess-theme gifts, books, DVDs, electronics and toys. To aid site administrators, it has associated with it a collection of easy to view sales and marketing reports.

Implementing State-of-the-Art Audience Response Systems

Volume 3, Number 4

“This game is simple,” says Bob Sagat on NBC’s 1 vs. 100 television game show. In this NBC show that airs in prime time on Friday nights in the United States, multiple choice questions are asked, and people are eliminated as they answer incorrectly.

In a “1 vs. 100″ game, a contestant is pitted against one hundred other people, known collective as the “mob,” and collects money for each mob member who gets eliminated. The contestant attempts to increase the pot and take home a sizable amount of money, either the accumulated total of the pot or a million dollars if all members of the mob are eliminated. If the contestant answers incorrectly, the remaining mob members who answered the last question correctly split the pot up to that point.

What may appear “simple” on screen is the result of the successful operation of a multitude of integrated systems in what has to be one of the most technically advanced game shows ever conceived. Behind the scenes is a major IT effort, controlled by a custom version of DataPlex’s state-of-the-art Audience Response System (ARS).

1 vs. 100 set under construction showing four rows of handsets

A view of two of the eight rows
of voting handsets during
construction of the 1 vs. 100
TV game show set (U.S.)

Mob members are placed into the various “pod” locations and often rearranged at the discretion of the director. Each pod has is own graphics display behind the player, microphone and voting handset. There are groups within the mob — lawyers, cheerleaders, janitors, kid geniuses — that are each tracked statistically. Our ARS system supplied through our client Quick Tally Interactive Systems for 1 vs. 100 has a player registration module that is used to set up the demographics and print badges with barcodes for each potential player. Once the mob members are in place in their pods, portable scanners are used to associate all mob members to their locations whose data is then processed by another one of our ARS modules.

Now, how simple is that?

The director likes to know which pods contain returning mob members (mob members who continue to answer questions correctly are carried forward into another game) and how well have they performed in the past. Often, there is a “reigning mob champion,” someone who has answered a significant number of questions correctly over several games. A sophisticated SQL database platform is used for managing the ARS data from multiple games. In a matter of seconds, the ARS data from previous games is processed along with the player location information of the current game, and a report is generated.

There are other IT processes, for example, if a mob wins, a list of the remaining mob members and their information is generated for the show’s accounting department. Also, post production uses demographic-based reports to show interesting factoids on the bottom of the television screen.

Not Your Father’s Audience Response System

A typical Audience Response System, also known as an ARS, collects votes and can generate a limited amount of graphs — bar charts of answer choice selection percentages, pie charts, and some cross reference displays. More recent systems can export directly or indirectly to Microsoft Office™ products, for example to PowerPoint for presentation purposes and Excel for further off-line number crunching. Reasonable stuff, actually.

DataPlex’s experience with audience studies started when in 1980 its early client ASI Market Research wanted to convert an analog dial system to a digital version.  The digital dial version was a huge success and is still used today for allowing audiences to evaluate movies, television shows and commercials before general release.  The audience feedback often had a significant impact on a show’s editing or whether a commerical was shown or not. In the 1990′s this system was expanded for remote voting outside of theaters and for supporting text-based answers by survey respondents.

In 1988, DataPlex started selling its DataPlex DataKeeper, a handheld mobile computing device that featured a world clock, professional time billing, a mileage logger,  and an easy-to-use database manager.  This database manager was used by several customers to conduct surveys where at the end of the survey period, the survey information from each device would be downloaded to a central PC, consolidated, and summary reports produced.  In the mid 1990′s, the DataKeeper received wireless communication capability where survey information and votes could be monitored and analyzed in real-time.  Around that time, several companies developed wireless ARS system packages specifically to handle surveys and votes in a localized region such as a meeting room or a conference hall.

The demands on ARS continue to grow. No longer are more demanding customers content with single location polling and simple summary bar charts. They want to know what’s behind the summary results. They want to compare ARS results across multiple sessions and locations and also correlate the results with those of their other systems.  They want to delve into the data and statistically pull out significant information that will help them improve their business.

On the high end, ARS are expanding above being merely a localized vote gathering tool. Now, it is asked to number-crunch, produce custom reports, feed other systems in real-time, and perform advanced digital and analog I/O (input/output) control.

Metadox ARS performing additional I/O

DataPlex Metadox ARS
Software driving ten individual
player video monitors for
Reader’s Digest’s Word Power
Challenge Championship

In another Metadox application supplied through DataPlex client Quick Tally Interactive Systems, the Reader’s Digest National Word Power Challenge, the application additionally controls ten video monitors with custom statistics for each of ten contestants. Metadox generates special graphics for each display, including showing each player’s name in large text and a red “X” when a player gets a question wrong. Different methods of revealing which players got what question correct or wrong keep the proceedings lively by preventing monotony.

Implementing a State-of-the-Art ARS

With the older ARS, you install the software from a CD that arrives in the mail or downloads from a website, configure it, and you are good to go. On these systems, as features are added, the configuration can get bogged down, and some of the new features may not work with your particular installation.

A state-of-the-art (SOTA) system has the pertinent features tested and qualified by an engineer as part of the process of delivering an exacting product. This step includes testing any hardware add-ons and writing and testing any custom programming code.

Once delivered, a SOTA ARS will require some additional fine-tuning because the installation is brand new. Fortunately, with technical support only a phone call away, most issues can be dealt with quickly.

In extensive applications that require much more customization than is typical, the ARS purveyors might recommend that a feasibility study be performed as a first step as a way to document the scope and detail a reasonable plan for development, lest the project run amok, which of course, is to no one’s advantage.

We are Engineers who Customize for Specific Applications

DataPlex’s niche is providing engineering and consulting services to meet exacting, custom requirements for existing or brand-new systems. We pride ourselves on providing quality products with appropriate levels of training and support. For more information on audience response and voting systems for your own needs, please visit our clients’ sites below.

For more information, please visit: