Friday, January 22, 2010

A cloud-based document sharing service that should be on your radar

I have been using for a long time. They started out as another "me too" file sharing service. Over time they have adapted to the changing landscape and now have an incredibly compelling set of cloud-based document editing capabilities. I'm testing it out now and I'm very impressed. If you're in the market for cloud-based document sharing, has an excellent toolset.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Finding the cluster size on Windows iSCSI targets

We're preparing to extend our SAN at work and use the new space as an opportunity to clean up our earlier sins. We are using an HP AiO 1200R iSCSI SAN, which runs Windows Storage Server 2003. This is connected to our HP BLc-3000 via iSCSI. The BLc-3000 has six blades all running VMware ESX 3.5.

As we start the process of rearranging our storage, we need to figure out was how the AiO presents the storage to VMware. We can see the RAID volumes on the AiO, but they aren't assigned drive letters. This makes it difficult to work with them because most of the Windows disk management tools assume there are drive letters.

After a lot of fiddling around we finally found it:
fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo "c:\data volumes\[volume name]"
This syntax is necessary because the iSCSI volumes are mounted through junctions that are defined in the C:\Data Volumes\ path. There are two key things to note here. First, the folder names listed in the C:\Data Volumes\ folder have nothing at all to do with the volume names you'll find in Disk Management or diskpart. They are simply mount points and could be called anything. In the following image I have Disk Management open as well as the properties of one of my C:\Data Volumes\ entries.

You'll notice there is an entry in Disk Management called Data Volume but nothing with that name in C:\Data Volumes\. If you look at the leftmost dialog showing the disk space you can see this is a 1.93TB volume with the name Data Volume, which means it is mapped through C:\Data Volumes\Data Volume 2. I know it is confusing and it may be unique to our environment, but it caused us some frustration so I wanted to mention it. To match up the volume names you need to right-click the folder in C:\Data Volumes\ and select Properties, then click the Properties button beside Type: Mounted Volume to show the iSCSI disk properties. This will show you the volume name as it appears in Disk Management and let you match the volume names to C:\Data Volumes\ mount points. Just to be clear, it is the folder name in C:\Data Volumes that you want to feed into fsutil. Here is the output from my server:

C:\>fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo "c:\data volumes\data volume 2"
NTFS Volume Serial Number : 0xe0b404f1b404cc4a
Version : 3.1
Number Sectors : 0x00000000f85df672
Total Clusters : 0x000000001f0bbece
Free Clusters : 0x0000000006823dee
Total Reserved : 0x0000000000000000
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Cluster : 4096
Bytes Per FileRecord Segment : 1024
Clusters Per FileRecord Segment : 0
Mft Valid Data Length : 0x000000002b358000
Mft Start Lcn : 0x00000000000c0000
Mft2 Start Lcn : 0x000000000f85df67
Mft Zone Start : 0x00000000000ea960
Mft Zone End : 0x0000000003ed77e0

Secondly, and this is a lot simpler, don't use a trailing slash on the volume name.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Recent cooking experiments

After the 42 hour pot roast I did two more. These were sirloin instead of chuck (they're from a different part of the cow). Sirloin has less connective tissue and is much leaner so it's often ground to mix with fattier cuts or cut up to use as stew meat.

The first sirloin roast went in for 21 hours and we ate about half of it, but it didn't have the texture I wanted. It was "done" but a little tough. I put the other half back in the bag and let it cook for another 24 hours, for a grand total of 45 hours. It came out with a texture like pastrami, which was great, but it was a little dry. Here were the final results:

After all this I finally decided that pot roast is just better done in a conventional oven so those experiments are over. Last night I put a chunk of boneless pork loin in at 58C and left it until I got home tonight. The total cooking time was about 20 hours. This was one of the best pieces of pork I've ever had. It was tender and succulent and had an incredible flavor. I browned it in a cast iron skillet after it was done to give it a bit of texture, and spooned some reduced apple juice over the top to serve. It was divine!

Right now I have some chicken breast cooking at 63.5C. I'll be sure to share how those go. I will be moving my cooking posts to a new site shortly and return this one to technical content. That way the people only interested in one or the other won't have to sift through the rest. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How to cook pot roast in 42 short hours!

I did my osso bucco experiment this past Thursday. After I pulled that out, in went a 6 pound chuck roast. I put some salt and pepper on it, and thinly sliced a stalk of celery to go with it. I read online that said a beef roast should be cooked at 58C to 64C for four to 18 hours. I set the temperature at 58C, put in the chuck roast at 6PM on Thursday, and checked on it around midnight. It was still tough so I left it until noon on Friday. That was 18 hours, and it was still tough.

Frustrated I turned to the Internet to find out the why piece of the failure puzzle. I finally came up with what seemed like reliable sources that said you had to cook tough cuts between 64C and 68C for 12 to 18 hours. I set my cooker to 68C at about noon on Friday, and left it alone until noon on Saturday. Here are the results.

This was after cooking for 18 hours. The pot roast is in a regular non-vacuum-sealed Zip-Lock bag. I squeezed as much air out as possible, then inserted a straw to suck the rest out. It's kind of gross and I probably won't be using that technique again. We use the double-layer bags to prevent freezer burn and the two layers have air between them, so it kept floating. I weighed it down with some small plates to keep it submerged.

The final product after a total of 42 hours cook time.

Breaking it down for plating. You can see that there is still a bit of fat marbled in the roast, but it wasn't cooked at such a high temperature that it all melted out. It created a succulent and delicious flavor.

The definition of fork tender.

The final plate. Corn bread, hoppin john, whipped sweet potatoes, and pot roast with brown gravy.

The score is now tied 1 to 1. :-) Next up: poached pears.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My first experiment with my Sous Vide Supreme

For Christmas Myron got me a Sous Vide Supreme. The idea is you put food in vacuum sealed bags, then let them slowly cook to the proper temperature in a very precisely controlled water bath. It is widely used in high end restaurants because you can cook food to the desired temperature and it just stays at that temperature. You can cook a perfectly medium rare steak and leave it for days without hurting it.

My first experiment was veal osso bucco. This is a cross-section of the lower leg, and typically you braise it for two to three hours in the oven. The closest thing I could find in the cookbook that came with the Sous Vide Supreme was bone in pork, which said 58C to 60C for four to six hours.

I put a little salt and pepper and a small pinch of saffron on each piece of osso bucco, put two per bag, and sealed them. Then I set the temperature on the Sous Vide Supreme to 58C and dropped them in and left them for six hours. Here is how it looked before I pulled it out of the cooker. Yes, it is done at this point and yes, I know it looks like brains.

I made a sauce from sauteed onions and celery with a touch of browned butter, chicken stock and heavy cream, and served the osso bucco with honey glazed carrots with pine nuts and green beans with sherry vinegar. Here are the results:

So, how did it taste? The flavor was okay, but the texture was weird. Sous vide cooking doesn't create crispness or browning, so you have to try to get that after the fact. You run the risk of overcooking it, though, since it's already completely cooked. The other issue is osso bucco has a lot of connective tissue. After doing more research I have learned that 58C just isn't hot enough to dissolve it, you need at least 60C.

One experiment, one mediocre result. I have a chuck roast cooking now, and I'll follow up after I pull it out. I already know I started out totally wrong so now I'm hoping to salvage it. The joys of experimentation. :-)