Jordan Westhoff

Jordan Westhoff's Blog


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Disk Speed Testing on Linux

Hey all,

In the past I’ve spent a bit of time talking about the merits of RAID and other high speed disk setups. Several years ago I also published posts about dual drive setups and did some surgery on my MacBook Pro in an effort to scrap the optical drive in favor of adding an SSD. (Psst, the old article is still available here)

All in all, the overall speed of a computer can be attributed to the combination of all of its internal parts working together to get more work done in less time. This is especially true of high performance machines, servers and drive array machines. While a wonderful utility, known as the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, is available for Windows and OSX, it isn’t available for Linux. While I am sure there are a plethora of GUI disk speed utilities for Linux, there is one that I’m particularly drawn to, due to its simplicity and ease of use from the terminal. Since Linux is focused on being minimalist in the pursuit of performance, it only makes sense that installing a whole new utility just for spin testing is a bit wasteful.

As a result, I’ve written a basic script that does a pretty accurate disk speed test via the command line. The utility should work with all flavors of linux, I have been using it and deploying it across my fleet, all of which are either running Debian, ARCH or centOS 6.5.

The script is far from complex, merely taking a user input of how large a block of info to write to the disk and then it both writes and reads that size block of info and takes a time measurement. It is, however, pretty handy and works as fast as your drives can spin. Here, you can see the output of the script. I ran it with an argument of 2048MB across a single Western Digital VelociRaptop 15K RPM drive in one of my servers here in the rack.

WD Raptor Disk Speed Test

Not too shabby for a single 15K drive!

The code isn’t proprietary, you are free to use it how you like as an easy sysAdmin tool and it is easily modified to work however you please. Enjoy!

 

 

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Behind the Scenes: Shooting Sony 4K RAW

Recently, as part of the MPS Shootout we just finished, my shootout team and I had a great opportunity to shoot with some interesting Sony hardware since our main objective was to shoot and compare the RAW cinema capabilities of the Arri D-21 and the Sony NEX-FS700.

Natively, the Sony FS700 can’t shoot 4K. However, with a gracious software update from SONY that was implemented and installed by the RIT SoFA cage, the feature is unlocked. While the sensor and the camera on board hardware can handle the capture of 4K, the camera itself has no reliable method to record it. Without any hardware upgrade, the Sony FS700 only employs an SD card slot, which is not fast enough, nor high enough capacity to begin to think about recording 4K content. Hence, enter the Sony AXS-R5 +  HXR-IFR5 4K bundle. The school didn’t have these units available, but with a grant we were able to rent the equipment for a night in order to conduct our tests.

The most expensive hard drive toaster you ever will buy (for now until…8K?)

It was actually a pretty difficult feat getting our paws on this particular setup. The physical recording unit, the AXS-R5 is built and engineered for Sony’s PMW-F5 and Cine-Alta F55 cameras – not natively meant for the NEX-FS line. SONY solved this problem by engineering an “interface” unit – the HXR-IFR5. This unit takes in the 4K signal over an SDI cable and then pushes the signal to the recorder to be saved. Overall, the two units together cost just over $10,500 and that doesn’t include mounting, storage or other accessories. For our test, we used a single 512gb SSD, also manufactured by SONY, and it really did the trick! As a result of the difficulty in acquiring the devices, we couldn’t shoot for all of our test days but a small rental company out of Tennessee, pulled through for us! Enter LensRentals.com! With the unit acquired, I could then proceed to unbox it and start recording!

Initial Vanguard package containing our SONY gear.

Initial Vanguard package containing our SONY gear.

All of our SONY gear nestled inside of its shipping case.

All of our SONY gear nestled inside of its shipping case.

All unboxed and joined together - just need a camera!

All unboxed and joined together – just need a camera!

 

After the unit was unboxed, we were able to test it our in an actual scene! We proceeded to setup SOFA’s Studio B for our tests which gave us plenty of space to work, as well as plenty of lights, tables, and surfaces to set up our gear and mount our wall test targets. We shot a variety of scenes, mostly charts, but also we got a couple more shots featuring aesthetic objects as well for style.

Studio B setup for 4K RAW

Studio B setup for 4K RAW

 

This was our go-to setup. The camera (SONY FS700) was linked to the onboard SD media and the 4K unit via SDI which was also being monitored via the onboard signal feed. Since our 4K and HD were the same aspect ratio, the framing did not change, which meant we could safely use the Panasonic HD monitor to see what the camera was seeing from the DIT station. On set we had an Apple MacBook Pro to monitor files once they were recorded and ingested. All in all, the setup was far less complicated than some other setups, like the ARRI D-21 setup which was a spaghetti nightmare.

S.Two recording setup for the Arri D-21

S.Two recording setup for the Arri D-21

Mostly, all of our testing went well. We were able to gather all of the shots we wanted and several others. One snag did occur though, and I think that it is best described by the beautifully composed SnapChat that one of my partners, Carly Cerquone, sent to detail the issue.

Yup, that's right. We made the ol' rookie mistake.

Yup, that’s right. We made the ol’ rookie mistake.

In the end though, the project was a ton of fun and myself and the entire team learned a whole lot about the process of shooting and working with 4K. It is significantly different (and far more time consuming) than any other workflow currently around and you can find all of our findings and video information at the Shootout page on my blog here as well. Thanks for reading! As one final note, we decided to engineer our own dolly for pure creativity’s sake to capture the opening scene of the MPS SHOOTOUT Video – here was our super innovative approach. Below are some other photos from on set as well.

Carly and David, rocking the homemade dolly

Carly and David, rocking the homemade dolly

Carly, David and Matt lighting the scene

Carly, David and Matt lighting the scene

Matt lighting while some old B-Roll transfers

Matt lighting while some old B-Roll transfers


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Updates for the Summer!

Hey all,

Well, the semester is finally over which means like the academic semester, my junior year at RIT is complete! It was certainly a busy one! I have a lot of really cool summer plans, which I’ll post here but I wanted to recap the year a little bit and I’ll be spending the next week or two uploading a lot of thework myself and my teammates accomplished over the semester.

For the summer, I’ll be returning to RIT to work as a member of our research computing department. Originally, I had investigated traveling to LA after receiving job offers from SONY and IMAX but after some thinking I decided to stick around ROC and take an innovative position with RIT RC since it catered a bit more to my interests and offered some really valuable opportunities to learn about open source and parallel computing. There I will be maintaining and working to make research advances on 4K video streaming over IP as well as a variety of other tasks that tie into parallel computing, open source computing, global teleconferencing and open source global video delivery to  large tiled displays!

Also, this semester we finished the third year MPS shootout – a deeply analytical camera comparison test designed to pit two cinema grade systems against each other in order to determine which system is better for upperclassmen RIT School of Film and Animation students to produce films on based on a variety of factors. My role for the project was primarily to oversee DIT and technician work as well as programming and analysis. In the next week or so, our final public video will be posted with our results in a video delivery format for easy synopsis of our project. Our team was responsible for the most sophisticated video systems, the Sony FS700 and the Arri Arriflex D-21 and tasked with comparing their RAW workflows.

Standard Viewpoint

Over the course of the semester this was a very common way to find me – peering over the lid of my laptop at any given time.

 

Additionally, my senior thesis project was approved which means research for that will begin and continue throughout the summer, I’ll be posting a lot of updates here (Senior Project Page) with some translations to English as well (not just engineering speak!). As I reach checkpoints and make progress, I’ll make it a point to update this page so any interested parties can follow along!

As always, thanks for reading and look for more content in the coming days – I’m home now and I’ve begun to catch up on some much needed sleep so work should be updated soon!

 

-Jordan


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Sikki Sakka – Color Grading

Earlier in the year, a very kind artist living in Rochester reached out to me via my page and contacted me to do the color grading for an indie music video that he and several other artists had banded together to make. The song, titled “Ngi Dem” (translation: I Remember) is a track dedicated to the loved ones of the artists who died in their home continent of Africa. The band of artists goes by Sikki Sakka, also assisted by Bachir Kane.

The music video was shot on the Red One on site in Africa, and the majority of the footage was very impressive. Tasked with color correcting the film, I set out to do the best I could.

Screenshot 2014-02-06 18.28.36

 

I chose to use Final Cut Pro and Apple Color to do the grading of the clip, although I am currently upgrading my home systems to use Adobe and DaVinci since I have far more computational power for Windows/UNIX packages. It was a very interesting color grading experience, some white balance had been mis-set in the shooting, some shots were over or under exposed and some preliminary editing was already done. Along with this, some quick Final Cut Pro 7 Three Color Corrector presets had been applied as well. While this made some shots difficult, it was still very enjoyable and boy, this video was shot with sound in mind. The physical audio talent of the members of Sikki Sakka was incredible, and the audio mastering was done very professionally. This was particularly important because over the course of the color grade, I probably saw this feature about 200 times! That’s a really painful experience if the audio is awful! (Thankfully it was great – and had lots of bass) so it really boiled down to a pleasant experience in the edit bay. Here are some neat before and after screen caps of one of the lead rappers!

Screenshot 2014-02-06 18.37.11

Before Apple Color pass

 

Screenshot 2014-02-06 18.37.12

After Apple Color pass!

After the project was done, I was told the final render was to be sent off to Africa where it would broadcast across various countries! Hopefully Sikki Sakka is doing well and their music is continuing to spread, best of luck to you guys!


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Upgrades, Upgrades, Upgrades

Hey All!

With my return to Rochester, New York to spend a couple weeks working before the next academic semester, I’ll be posting a lot of neat content relevant to the assortment of projects I have planned! Here’s a quick breakdown!

Moving some servers around! I’ll be converting a Windows 7 server to a CentOS server to host this website on! I’ve been using WordPress for a significant period of time and it’s been great! The problem is WordPress’s business plan and pay per add on web features when you host through their web service. After some work with CentOS, I realized I have plenty of power to be hosting else where! I’ll still be running WordPress, the new version 3.8 is pretty snappy! But I want more power with hosting and SEO and back end programming, so hosting locally it is! As a note, if this site goes offline for a couple of days, don’t be alarmed!!

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Building another NAS! I have the parts, the case, (beautiful NZXT 210 Elite in sleek black) and the drives, but now it’s time for the build and setup! It’s going to be a real cool setup on the inside so I’ll be sure to post photos! I’ve been hosting somewhat of a local datacenter for my operations, clients and products but now it’s time to make a bit more of a contiguous storage pool, especially given RIT’s internet speeds here! The power supply is coming in in two days and then building will go forward pretty quickly! This should comfortably keep my storage ceiling around 20tb, even with redundancy and network shares!

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On top of this, I will also be setting up my final server as a general use server, with a file system and user access panel. Currently experimenting with Windows Server 2012 datacenter Edition, but also looking into Ubuntu Server and the possibility of adding in another CentOS machine! With all of these installs, I’ve tapped out all of our networking opportunities so I’ll be installing a mid sized rack switch and firewalls. Time to take this setup to a full blown cluster now that I have the capabilities for web serving, file serving and administration and distributed rendering and computational engines. Hopefully the setup starts to look a bit more professional as well, as compared to the humble beginnings of the project, shown below!

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The humble beginnings of my growing server setup.


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Side Project – Matlab and Linux

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After 3 weeks and almost 40 hours of fighting, struggling, and programming non-stop, I finally beat MathWorks and got a working, 64 bit, native install of Matlab onto my new programming machine, running nothing but linux. Boy, was that hard. Much harder than using a graphical installer like on Mac or PC, but very rewarding nonetheless. Time to make the final steps on this auto photo editing software I’m writing as a summer project.