Weekend Project - Wine Bottle Torches

We had seen these blue wine bottles turned tiki-torches in various corners of the internet, and decided that they would look great on our back porch (and might even keep the bugs away too). So a quick trip to the hardware store netted the required components for a hair under $25 (nearly half was in the $10 torch fuel). The hardest part of the construction was in removing the wine bottle labels - but repeated soaking in warm, soapy water and scrubbing with rubbing alcohol removed them to our satisfaction. Here are the photos of them in use (we have one hanging up and one on the table);
  • Screwdriver
  • Teflon tape
  • Lighter
  •  $25 (fuel, hardware, teflon tape - no wine bottles)

Backyard Table

    We've been on a scrap-wood kick - trying to get rid of the extra plywood we have with some useful projects. One of these is a table for the backyard patio. The fountain turned our backyard into a nice oasis to chill out in, but it was still lacking something. Primarily a table, so that our back-porch picnics would have somewhere to put the food instead of just on our laps.
    In our characteristic fashions, the Mr. wanted to just screw some plywood together, stain and seal it, and then call it a day. But the Mrs. had some more vibrant ideas, and after a quick trip to the local hardware store, we came back with some tile and mastic. Here's the story of the backyard table.

    We cut out an (almost) equilateral triangle from one of the plywood scraps, rounded the corners, and sanded it to a nice finish. After this came two coats of stain and sealer.
     Next we laid the tile out on the wood, marked the edges, and cut the tile with a Dremel equipped with a diamond cutting wheel (sorry no picture). This process took awhile, and should also be completed with proper safety precautions (safety goggles, dust-mask, and gloves).

    Next up was the mastic and grout - a thin layer of mastic was applied on the surface of the wood, and we pressed the tiles into that. Once it had dried (24 hrs) we applied the grout to the tiles. We needed to start at the center tiles and work our way to the edges to allow the edge tiles some time to set. This way we didn't knock all the grout off when cleaning the tile surfaces. Moistening the cloth helped remove the drier grout from the top of the edge tiles.

    After that the legs were attached with some hardware that we had laying around from when we built the bench. The screws going into the table-top are 1/4 inch plywood screws. With the metal bracket, they barely avoid going through the plywood.

    With a couple of coats of grout sealer, we had a final product! The table nestles nicely between the two chairs when we have them angled towards the fountain, and is matched in height to the arms, so it's easy to use.

  • Mitre saw
  • Jig saw
  • Power screwdriver ./ drill
  • Dremel
  • Protective devices (goggles, dust mask, gloves)
  • $10 Tile
  • $5 Mastic
  • $0 Existing wood, screws.

Wine Bottle Cutting Jig

    We've been storing up empty wine bottles for awhile. The plan was to recycle them into some artwork - vases, candleholders, etc. Earlier this year, we tried to cut the top off by scoring them with a glass cutter and heat-shocking the glass. The plan didn't work out so well, mainly because the scoring was very uneven, both in pressure and in making an even line around the vase. So while we were able to heat-shock the glass into breaking off, the end result was more effort than it was worth, and not very pretty.
    So over the last few months, I've ideas of how to improve the results simmering on my mind. The result is a nifty cutting jig I threw together this weekend:

The idea is simple: a couple of boards to hold the bottle while we rotate it, and a backstop to keep the bottle from sliding back and forth. The glass-scoring tool is seated in a wood block so it's easier to apply pressure.

My favorite part is the peg and hole system I used to allow the tool to cut the bottles at varying heights. The holder / guide for the cutting tool has two pegs at the bottom which pair up with numerous holes along the length of the guide-rail.
This allows the jig to accommodate bottles of multiple sizes. It doesn't allow for arbitrary distance movements, but the steps are 3/4" apart, so it's close enough for practical purposes.
As you can see, it makes nice even scoring - perfect for later heat-shocking for cutting the glass.

Tools needed:

  • Jigsaw
  • Mitre Saw
  • Sander
  • Power screwdriver / drill

Total cost:

  • $7 (Another furring strip and some longer screws.)

EDIT: Here's a schematic of the jig with sizes. The base and backing is 1/4 inch plywood, and the square wood pieces are furring strips. Be sure to take all safety precautions when working with wood, glass, and fire. Click for a larger size.

New Painting and Poster

    We've made a couple of additions to our gallery in the effort to slowly add life to the dull white walls around here.
    The first is a Monet print. The print itself was mostly square, but it didn't fit into any of the frame sizes at the local craft store. We had to ordered a 24" x 24" frame from online, and then spray-painted the silver over the white. We had some difficulty picking a mat color to compliment the deep purples and greens in the picture, and wound up going for this teal.

    Next up was a project I'd been putting off for awhile. The "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster was a birthday present, and I thought it would be great to have a matching "Live Long and Prosper" poster. So with a little creative image searching, and some help from the GIMP, I had a matching hand from Mr. Spock for the decoration. The image is 11" x 17", which was the largest the local print shop could do in color, so we got lucky. The "Sans" font matched very well, and I scaled the text to be the same 2" height.

The Bench

Here's a project that we completed awhile ago, but haven't posted yet. It's the second major construction project we built - a bench. You see when we moved into our new apartment, there was this recessed nook in the upstairs bedroom that was just calling for a cushioned seat for some comfy reading. Over the course of about six months (we really got slowed down on the sanding) we finally built the bench. Here's the story:

 The basic supplies for this project were a bunch of 2x2 furring strips (which can be had for a few dollars / 8 feet, so they tend to be one of my favorite basic building supplies), plywood for the walls and surfaces, and metal brackets to hold everything together. Of primary concern was that the center of the bench not sag and support the seat fully. To this end, I created two frames (see right) of the furring strips.

 On top of each frame went a piece of plywood. You can see one of the few tools I was using, my hand drill / screwdriver. This is really a must-have, switching to the drill and putting in a few pilot holes helps the screws go in straight and without causing the surrounding wood to splinter. Also, it really helps to have a countersink (a cone shaped bit) that drills out a divot for the screw's head to recess into. This way the top of the wood is flat, and there are no screws sticking up to poke yourself on (or in this case to interfere with the seat top and baskets).

 Here you can see the walls going up. Again, the furring strips provide support (they will be the main weight-bearing elements). Imagine the bench for a moment without the plywood and with a top on it. If you're like me you can see the whole lot shearing and falling over to one side when someone sits on it. By having the plywood "L" into the furring strips at the end, I was hoping to use the plywood's resistance to shearing to help strengthen the bench to this particular mode of failure.

  Here we are with the top on. One thing you can notice, is that because the plywood L's into the furring strips there is a small gap. If you have a router, you could create a small groove in the furring strip for the plywood. This would remove the gap while maintaining structural stability.
  Our joke at this point was that it looked more like a coffin than a bench, and unfortunately it stayed this way for a couple of months over the course of the winter as we were building up the courage to sand it down prior to the staining.

  Here's the complete creation. What is left out of these pictures are the steps of staining and the creation of the cushion for the top. Prior to staining, we also attached two pieces of trim on the front to add embellishment, but really to just help hide the exposed sides of the plywood.
  The cushion was a really good find. After looking for foam at a bunch of craft stores and finding it very high priced (it was looking like $75-80 for 2 inches of foam) we found a camping mat at our local wholesaler (COSTCO / Sam's / etc.) with three inches of foam for $30. Just had to slice it up, wrap the cloth over it and staple the cloth to a thin (1/4 inch) piece of plywood. This was screwed in from under the seat to hold it in place.
  We snagged a few baskets and pillows from one of those store that sells unsold / slightly damaged shopping center stuff (Home Goods, etc.), and the bench was complete!
Here are a couple of other photos of the complete bench in the "reading nook".

Tool List:
  • Wood saw and miter box (cutting the furring strips).
  • Cordless screwdriver (also used to drill the pilot holes)
  • Jigsaw (This was the next tool on the purchase list, although all of the plywood pieces could have been cut by the hardware store).
Price Tag:
  • Tools: $63
  • Supplies (wood, stain, baskets, foam, etc.): $166
  • Total: $229

Bedside Tables - Part IV - Done!

  We've finally finished the bedside tables! Here's a quick overview of the final steps, and a few pictures of the final product.
  Left out is the cutting of the side panels and the doors. The side panels needed to fit flush, which was achieved by setting the jigsaw at a 45-degree angle for the long cuts along the side (See the picture below). I switched back to a straight cut for curve at the bottom and top of the side panels. The doors also needed straight cuts in for the hinges. After the sanding, staining, and sealing, we had the side panels and doors finished.

   Once everything was stained, the doors needed to go on first, as I needed access to get to the hinges. I used quite a few washers to keep the screws from piercing through the thin 1/4 inch plywood.

  We picked up a magnetic latch to keep the doors shut, and again used three or four washers on the door catch. Positioning the door catch required some dexterity; almost closing the door, then marking the horizontal and vertical position of the catch. The latch also required some distance tweaking so it was close enough to the edge to grab the door, but not far enough over to keep the door open, or be too obvious.

Here's the final product. The notches in each door, combined with the angled cut, allow them to open almost all the way. The sides are nailed into the shelves with small furniture nails. We're letting them air out in the study for a few days to loose the smell before we bring them upstairs, but other than that, they're finally done!

Here's the price tear down:
  • Jigsaw
  • Mitre Saw
  • Power drill / screwdriver
  • Sander
  • Wood, stain, etc. was left over from the bench.
  • Hardware (angle brackets, hinges, door handles, washers): $30
  • $30

Home Server - Part IV - Networked Printing

  Okay, so the Unison file sync is taking longer than I expected, but I realized that I could network the printer, so as to have any computer in the house print through the wireless. There were a few hiccups, but it was mostly painless. Here's what I had to do.

Part I - Installing Linux
Part II - Setting up SSH
Part III - Setting up SVN
Part IV - Networked Printing

  First you'll want to install the samba print driver in Ubuntu, instead of using the command line to install this time, I went to the software center, searched for samba, and installed from there. I followed the steps from this Ubuntu community link, but had to make some modifications as I went. It was fairly fast, and I had to modify most every step, so here goes. First off all the setup is Ubuntu server with attached printer (HP Officejet 5500), two Windows 7 boxes, and a Win XP laptop that needed to print to the printer.

  I went to http://localhost:631 from a browser on the Ubuntu box, but this didn't have much information on sharing the printer beyond allowing me to confirm the name. Next up was to open the samba configuration file "sudo vi /etc/samba/smb.conf". Under [printers] (there is something like #printers above it - don't be fooled, keep scrolling), change / add the lines to;
    browsable = yes
    guest ok = yes
    use client driver = yes

The last one is for the XP machine. Now restart samba with;
    sudo restart smbd
    sudo restart nmbd

  For the the Windows client printers, add the network printer by going to; Start -> Printers and Faxes -> Add a printer -> Network printer -> Now enter the local IP address of the machine and then the exact printer name for instance "\\\officejet-5500-series". It will then give you a warning about installing drivers from the network, but then it will fail to install the driver. Select one close to you model (if you can find the exact model go for it).
  At this point, the Windows 7 machines were printing fine. However the Windows XP box was not. I had to go back into printers and faxes, then right click on the Network Printer -> Properties -> Advanced. If you were not able to select the exact driver when you set up the printer (as I was) this may help. Previously I had already used the printer from the XP machine, and it had correctly installed the driver then. I was able to pull down the menu next to driver and find the correct one. After clicking Apply, Windows prompted me to install the driver again, but (again) they didn't have it, so I canceled out of that dialog, and hit OK to the printer's properties. With the correct driver associated, the printer was printing! As always questions and comments are welcome!

Home Server - Part III - SVN

  Now that we have our linux box running, and we can connect to it from inside and outside the network, let's get to the good stuff - keeping all of our files in sync, and our version tracking the code. This allows us to always roll back if we should make a goof-up.

Part I - Installing Linux
Part II - Setting up SSH
Part III - Setting up SVN

  Some reminders from the previous cases - our example server sits on internal network at, our DNS service forwards traffic from the example domain madscientistlair.blogspot.com, and our SSH is configured to use example port 1986. We've so far been able to use PuTTY to connect.

  First off, we want to create a directory the non-administrator users can access (since we're using them when we SSH in). As the computer administrator we're going to create some directories, and then a usergroup, and finally add the users to that group, and give the group access to the folder. Then we can restrict SSH logins to those users, but they can still access all the files we want to access anyway.

  I chose to make a new high level directory /share with the command "mkdir /share". Within that I have /share/music, /share/photos, and /share/repos. This last one is where our subversion repositories will sit. The repository is where subversion maintains all of the files and file history that it uses. We will actually add the repositories first, and then do our group permissions to make sure that the permissions take on the repository files.

  I followed the quick start guide at the end of the svnbook to get myself started. First, we tell svn we want to use to repos folder as our repository;
    svn create repos
Now we add files
    svn import /tmp/myproject file:///var/svn/repos/ProjectA -m "initial import" 

The argument goes svn import [folder holding your files] [repository you want to add the files to]. The -m tells it what comment to associate with this version. It's always good to add comments to your commits so you can figure where to roll back to.

  Now I promised user groups and access to that folder. Create the usergroup and add users with the commands;
    sudo addgroup sharegrp
    sudo adduser username sharegrp
  Obviously username needs to be changed to the actual user name you want to add.
  Now we need to change permissions on the folder we created.
    chgrp sharegrp -R /share
    sudo chmod -R 775 /share
  This sets the group associated with the share folder as sharegrp. The second command changes the folder permissions to read-write-execute for owner (root) and group (sharegrp) and read-execute for any other users. The -R flag tells it to recursively do this for all the folders and files in the folder. I still had some issues being able to read / write to the folder immediately after, but a simple log-out and log-in fixed this for me.

  Now we've established and populated the subversion repository, we can check it out on our remote computers. I was following this guide, but the basic steps are to install TortoiseSVN. TortoiseSVN integrates into the windows shell, so that when you right click on or in a folder, you should see some new options "SVN Checkout" and "TortoiseSVN" with an arrow for more options. First we need to tell T.SVN that we'll be using ssh. So right click anywhere and go to TortoiseSVN -> Settings -> Network. Browse for the TortoisePlink SSH client. Mine was located at "C:\Program Files\TortoiseSVN\bin\TortoisePlink.exe". Now let's checkout the repository. Navigate where you want it, right click and hit "SVN Checkout". It will prompt us for the repository we wish to checkout. You want to end up with something like;
    svn+ssh://[username]@[PuTTY Saved session name]/share/repos/ProjectA
  Oh, I should mention; once PuTTY can connect to your server, re-enter the information, then give it a name on the main screen, and click save. This will save the session, and allow other programs, like plink or tortoiseplink (both command line interfaces to putty) to access this session. That's what I referred to above as the PuTTY saved session name. Also, it's useful to have Paegent running in the background during this, to run the authentication without prompting you for it. Click "Okay" and you should be on your way to checking out your repository!

  I also had to configure svn for my linux work machine. The command line interface is a tad bit different. First off, since we're using a non-standard port, we have to add a new ssh tunnel for subversion. Edit ~/.subversion/config under the [tunnels] heading add in myssh = ssh -p 422
Now when you go to checkout tell svn to use that tunnel with the command;
    svn checkout svn+myssh://[username]@[madscientistlair.blogspot.com]/share/repos/ProjectA

Now onto using subversion. The basic work cycle goes something like this;
    update -> resolve conflicts -> make changes -> commit changes
In TortoiseSVN click the folder you want to update and go "SVN Update". From the linux command line, either use svn update if you're in the folder, or svn update [path to folder] to update the specific repository. I've not yet had to resolve many conflicts, so I'm going to leave this blank for now. Once I have some more experience I'll link to a detailed discussion. When you're done commit the changes with svn commit -m "comment on the changes". Or use Tortoise, right click the folder and use SVN Commit. I have noticed that TortoiseSVN someitmes won't commit any changes, if you right click on the top level directory, and you have not checked out all the sub-directories.
  On this note, you may only want to check out part of a repository, here's how to do it. For instance, assume our project repository looks like;
and you don't want the Web or Template folders checked out. When you initially check out the repository, select "Checkout Depth -> Immediate children including folders". This will make empty folders which you can then populate by right clicking and using SVN Update, but under options pull down "Fully Recursive" instead of "Working Copy".
  Again, when you're done making your changes, bring the server back up to date by right clicking and going SVN Commit.

  That's it. This is pretty cursory guide to getting SVN running on our server, but you should have a functional, if rudimentary, SVN system now.

Home Server - Part II - SSH

Now that we've gotten our Ubuntu server box up and running, it's time to install the tools that will allow us to connect, known as secure shell, or SSH.

Part I - Installing Linux
Part II - Setting up SSH

  First up is the install. Bring up a terminal, and use the command "sudo apt-get openssh-server" to install the SSH server. This is the command for Ubuntu, for Fedora, I think it's "yum openssh-server". You may also need to install the client. To check, first issue the command "man ssh" to bring up the manual page (use q to quit), if nothing comes up, then you don't have it installed, "sudo apt-get openssh-client" will do the trick.

  That's all for the installation, now let's test out the SSH capabilities. Behind the scenes, after you did the install Ubuntu starts up the ssh service. Later we'll make changes to the ssh files and will need to restart the service, so this will become more clear.
  My other computer is a Win XP box (good lord!), and I'm used to PuTTY to connect. We'll start on the local network. Grab the local ip off of the server with the terminal command "ifconfig". It returns a lot of other stuff, but somewhere in there should the be local ip address which looks like "192.168.#.##". Later I'll use the concrete example "" as the host server. Load up a session of PuTTY and type in this address in the Host Name box, then click on Open. A command window opens that should be prompting you for your username and then password. You can use any of your accounts to test it out, after logging in it will drop you to the Ubuntu command line.

   With that working, let's make it a little more secure. Why do we want to make this secure? Here's a great article by the Fedora folks on security precautions and why you want to use them. I particularly liked the examples of the number of attempts to log in as root.
  The easiest things you should be able to do are 1) use a strong password on root, 2) change your port number to something non-standard, 3) use SSH 2, 4) deny root the ability to log in, and 5) use key authentication. I would recommend you implement all of Fedora's guidelines (if applicable), but I'll cover these four in more depth.

  Assuming you can take care of #1 on your own, here's how to handle number's 2-4. On the linux box, use the command "sudo vi etc/ssh/sshd_config". This opens up a text editor (called vi, see here for a list of commands) and shows the preferences file for the ssh server. Find and edit the text lines;

  Port 22 -> Port NNNN
  Protocol 2,1 -> Protocol 2
  PermitRootLogin yes -> PermitRootLogin no
  The right side of the arrow is what it should read when you're done. For port numbers, the most common are; 22 (SSH) 2222 (alternative SSH), 80 (webserver) 8080 (alternative webserver). So we'll pick an unused port say 1986. You can check it against this list, but it's not required that you pick something not on there, the max you can choose is 65535 (I think). Now if you try to use PuTTY to log-in again, you can't. We have to specify the port as well, the field directly right of the Host Name. With this you should be back to logging in just fine.

  Now we'll set up key authentication, replacing the user-id and password scheme. This makes you system less vulnerable to brute force attempts. Instead of trying a common name "root" and a bunch of passwords "", "password", etc. SSH will confirm you identity with a public/private key pair. This is actually how SSH transmits all it's data anyway, so your login will be as secure as the channel (or your computer). What happens in this scheme, is that you generate two "keys" one is called the private key - only you have the private key, and it identifies exactly who you are. The second is the public key, which you can give out to anyone! If you want someone to know that it is you at the other end, you encrypt a message (say "Hello world") with your private key. You send it to them, and they decrypt it with the public key you gave them, they see "Hello world" and know it's you. Why? Because if someone else had encrypted the message with her private key, gibberish would result on the output. Moreover, knowledge of the public key doesn't let someone know what your private key is. So as long as your private key is private, you can encrypt messages with it, and if they're decipherable, then the other party knows it is you at the other end. Of course there are drawbacks to this method - you could compute every possible private/public key pair, and then if someone knows your public key, they also have your private key. But if you make the keys longer, then it becomes much more difficult to compute every pair, and the system remains secure.

  I found this link extremely helpful in setting up key authentication using PuTTY and won't try to reproduce his work here; http://www.howtoforge.com/ssh_key_based_logins_putty_p2. Also be sure to encrypt (password protect) your private key, as if anyone gets their hands on your private key file they could impersonate you. Password protecting it gives you another layer of defense. For linux, you can use the command "ssh-keygen -t rsa" to generate the key pairs. Same steps apply for registering your public key with the server.
  Once you have key based logins on all of your computers, we can turn off username / password login. Open your config file again; "sudo vi etc/ssh/sshd_config", and change the following lines;
   ChallengeResponseAuthentication no
   PasswordAuthentication no
   UsePAM no

  So all this allows us to ssh into our server while on the same network, but what if we want to get to our files while on a different network, a friend's house or at work? Nowadays most IP addresses dynamically assigned and recycled, so we'll use Dynamic DNS (domain name system) to create a easy to remember web address for our server. I chose to use the FreeDNS service, although others exist, like OpenDNS and DynDNS is another popular one. For example, you sign up for a sub-domain, the "madscientistlair" part of "madscientistlair.blogspot.com". Then you use as the host name field in PuTTY, "madscientistlair.blogspot.com" and the DNS service says "Oh, you really want; 245.324.3.564", which is the current IP address your ISP has given your home. PuTTY connects to this instead, which goes to your router, which knows that requests for port 1986 should be sent to "" and you connection to your server is made.
  The second part is installing a client to keep the Dynamic DNS servers updated. On my Ubuntu box, I used ddclient, installing with "sudo apt-get install ddclient". On setup, it prompts you for the service you're using. For more information check out the Ubuntu community page. Your router may support one of these services, go to your router web administration tools and then there's usually a Dynamic DNS tab.

  One other important step, and you may have noticed this above. How does the router know that you want to talk to the server computer? First it's useful to set a static IP for the server, this way the address "" that we've been connecting to from home doesn't change in the middle of the night and we can no longer get to our server. The second is to set up port forwarding. There are usually tabs for both in the web administration tools for your router. Since these vary wildly, I can't give you any more advice other than on the port forwarding page, you want to have 1986 (or whatever SSH port number you specified in the sshd_config file) point to your server; To check that it's working, go to http://canyouseeme.org/ and give it your port number. Below their ad, you'll see the result.

  There was one file issue I ran into. I could use "madscientistlair.blogspot.com" to talk to my server when I was outside of the house, but not when I was in the house! It turns out that some classes of routers don't allow you to do this. Essentially they prevent you from talking to a local machine through an outside connection. Kinda like using your cellphone to call you grandma in Florida so she can call the home phone. To get around this you'll have to have a batch script on your desktop that edits your windows "hosts" file when you switch locations. For example, you could have two scripts "set_when_home.bat" and "set_when_away.bat". You run set_when_home, when you're home, and this tells windows that when PuTTY asks to connect to "madscientistlair.blogspot.com" it really wants to connect to "". When you're away, you run set_when_away, and it undoes this change. See here for a couple of example hosts files.

  Well that's it. We've installed SSH into our server, secured it, and allowed access from the outside. If you have any lingering questions, or can't get something to work, leave a comment and I'll try to help.

Home Server - Part I - Linux Server Box

  My goal in this was to start a personal fileserver over SSH using Unison (for static binary files - pictures, music, etc), and subversion (for revisioned text files; i.e. code, docx documents, etc). I was thinking about using git, and still might for personal use, but we have subversion installed in the work computers, and part of this was syncing my home files with the work files, so I stuck with subversion.

Part I - Installing Linux
Part II - Setting up SSH

  The easiest step I figured was getting Ubuntu on the laptop that I was going to have act as the server. HA! As if this project was going to be easy. Okay, so I started with Fedora 16 live, after that dropped me to the debug shell, I looked up some of the error messages I was getting, and there seemed to be no unified solution. Some suggested it was the bios (which I only wanted to update as a last resort), missing drivers, etc. I figured the easiest thing would be to switch distros and see if that help. One Ubuntu burn later... one linux mint burn later... one ubuntu server burn later... Okay, but now we're getting somewhere, since Ubuntu server doesn't have to launch into the live environment before giving me options (my Linux help buddy mentioned holding / tapping left shift to get the live CD's to display menus, but these processes lost out to my patience). So how did these options help us figure out what was wrong?
  Well at this point we figured it's likely to be the CD. Earlier we thought it might be graphics; Fedora was a bleeding edge distro, Ubuntu more conservative, Mint was a graphically more conservative yet, and Ubuntu Server is the most graphically paired down of them all. But since none of the CD's installed, including the server CD, which failed it's self error check (see step 3 below).
  Step 1 was to check the MD5 hash of the ISO (which you always should do before burning - and I did), I was burning in linux, so the command; "md5sum imagename.iso > file.txt" does the md5 checksum and sends the output to a text file, where you can paste in the offical hash on another line and quickly see if they compare. In Windows you can get the hash with an fciv tool provided by Microsoft.
   Step 2 is to compare the ISO against the burned CD. You can't really directly compare but the command;
"dd if=/dev/cdrom1 | head -c `stat --format=%s ubuntu-11.10-server-i386.iso` | md5sum" checks the size of the ISO and sees how many blocks this should take on the CD and if it fact does take up this space. You'll have to change the location of the CD drive and the file you're burning in the command. I don't know the equivalent command on Windows for this.
  Step 3 was the smoking gun. From within the server boot, there was an option to "Check integrity of install media" which failed every time we ran it, and not reliably in one spot either, sometimes right at the start, sometimes on other files. This was when I got really lucky - I was trying to install at work, and we had an external USB CD-RW drive lying around. Not only that, but the laptop's BIOS recognized it as a CD drive and put it in the boot order. So we got that to boot! Finally 8+ hours in, and a working install of Ubuntu.

  With Ubuntu working (is it just me, or is Unity trying to be OS X?), the first thing to do is to update. At this point it's also good to have a couple of other users who don't have administrator privliges. You can go into the "system settings -> users -> unlock -> +" to add more users from unity. Be sure to give reasonably strong passwords. We'll use these users as our primary remote log-in users. A few other words of advice; make sure that the root user has a strong password! And I only recommend this for home use - write it down somewhere safe - you won't be using it all that often after the initial setup and you don't want to loose this password. We'll be sure to deny remote user log-ins as root when we set up ssh, which is the next step.