Jan 22

Over the holiday break I ripped and encoded our DVD collection such that we could easily play our movies on various devices ranging from UPnP clients such as a Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-Ray palyer and PS3 to a set of Apple devices.  Getting the videos loaded into our iTunes library was key to sharing the videos with the Apple devices.  Although I was able to easily add most of the videos to the iTunes library, some files that were encoded via the exact same process wouldn’t load.  The .mp4 files played fine via QuickTime.  Initially, as a workaround, I ripped and encoded the problem videos over again and was able to add them to the library.  But I hadn’t figured out the root cause of the issue. 

Recently, while working on another home project, I ran into the issue again and finally tackled the problem.
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Jan 03

Several months ago one of our trio of 500 GB SATA drives we use with our QNAP TS-109 Pro NAS server bit the dust.  Since it was one of the two external HDDs that failed, it was pretty simple to replace the failed external HDD with a new Western Digital WD10EARS 1 TB “green” HDD. (This was several months ago. If it was today, we would have used a new 2 TB HDD.)

Our shared network storage approach uses a three-disk scheme where:

  1. there’s an internal HDD in the NAS server,
  2. another HDD plugged into an eSATA drive caddy and
  3. a third HDD residing in an off-site storage location.

We rotate the two external HDDs on roughly a monthly basis.  When attached to the NAS server, the QNAP Q-RAID1 feature backs up the content of the internal HDD to the external HDD in near real-time. As explained earlier, this scheme has been successful for us in that it’s really simple to perform the external HDD swapping.

The one wrinkle with the introduction of the 1 TB HDD in our rotation scheme has been that whenever we swap out the 500 GB external HDD an replace it with the 1 TB HDD, we have to restart the NAS server to get it to start the Q-RAID1 syncing process. When we swap in the 500 GB HDD, we don’t have to restart the NAS server: it automatically begins the Q-RAID1 syncing process.

All in all, this is a pretty minor wart in our rotation scheme.  It’s nice to see that the NAS server doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that the external HDD is larger than the 500 GB internal HDD.

The other revealing aspect of this HDD failure was that it helped chart the path for our future HDD replacement and storage expansion.  Our approach is to simply wait until each drive fails before purchasing a new, larger capacity HDD.  Since even this relatively dated TS-109 device supports 2 TB HDDs, we have a fair amount of headroom for the next year or so as the other HDDs fail.

Let’s just hope the QNAP itself keeps humming along…

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Jul 04

I finally bit the bullet and performed a test of our Time Machine restore process by reinitializing the solid state drive (SSD) in our iMac and restoring from the Time Machine backups housed on our QNAP NAS server. For background on using a QNAP NAS server to hold Time Machine backups, see my post on setting up Time Machine with a QNAP TS-109 Pro NAS server.  Thankfully, the process worked without a hitch and I was able to restore the internal solid state drive (SSD) of our iMac with a recent system backup.

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Apr 24

The core of our home network storage approach consists of a QNAP TS-109 Pro NAS server and two external drives that are rotated off-site on a monthly basis. At any one time, one of the two external drives is acting as a mirror of the single internal drive of the NAS server. Soon after purchasing the QNAP device, I verified that I could access the content of either external drive by connecting it to the USB port of the NAS server. In the associated blog entry, I also mentioned that I was unable to do the same by connecting the external drive to a Ubuntu 7.10 system due to incompatibilities between the ext3 implementation in the QNAP and the one in Ubuntu. Nonetheless, it was good to know that I could at least access the backed up data via the QNAP itself.

Recently, I decided to attach one of the external drives to my MacBook Pro to see if I could access the backed up data. The good news is that it worked fine after I installed ext2/ext3 support in Mac OS X. With the help of Tom Pennings’ blog entry, I was able to easily access the files via Finder. I installed MacFUSE and fuse-ext2, rebooted the system and the partitions of the external drive were visible in Finder and in Disk Utility.

It’s nice to know that when (not if) the NAS server or the internal HDD dies, I have the option to quickly access the backed up files from either the local mirror drive or the off-site drive without needing to depend on the availability of the NAS server.

In the following screenshots, partition “disk2s3″ represents the shared folder data housed on the NAS server.

External Drive Share Data in Finder

External Drive Share Data in Disk Utility

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Apr 24

Part one in this series covered the failure of our iMac’s internal hard disk drive (HDD) and my investigation into the prospect of using a solid state drive (SSD) as a replacement. Well, we received the SSD and 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bay adapter yesterday and got them installed last night. Everything worked out fine and the iMac is back up and running. As reported by other users of SSDs in their own systems, system start-up, application launching and desktop navigation performance dramatically improved with the replacement of the HDD with an SSD.

SSD Attached With Velcro

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Apr 21

In the past few days our three-year-old 24″ aluminum iMac started acting pretty flaky. Among other things, the machine would freeze and the bluetooth wireless mouse wouldn’t be recognized. It finally got to the point where the system wouldn’t boot past the gray Apple icon screen. Using the Disk Utility from the Snow Leopard install disk told me that the hard disk drive (HDD) had issues. Unfortunately, the Disk Repair feature was unable to correct the problems. Given the age of the machine, I decided to replace the HDD with a solid state drive (SSD) rather than reformat the existing HDD or install a new HDD.

OCZ Vertex SSD

The good news is that we store all of our important documents and images on our QNAP NAS server which is a key part of our overall home storage and backup solution: all files are backed up to a local mirror drive attached to the NAS server and the mirror drive is rotated off-site each month with another external drive. Apart from gritting my teeth while disassembling the beautiful iMac, the main pain will simply be reinstalling and configuring the apps of interest after we install Snow Leopard from scratch.

This post covers how I decided on a specific SSD to replace the failed HDD. A follow-up post covers the installation and results.

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Apr 21

I recently needed to install Windows 7 and one or more Linux distributions on my MacBook Pro. Normally I’d run these other OSs as guests or virtual machines (VMs) in VirtualBox with Mac OS X as the host, but I was having problems accessing a specialized USB device from Windows 7 in VirtualBox. Plus, I needed to be able to boot into a bare metal Linux-based Xen virtualization environment. All of this led me to set up Apple’s Time Machine feature of Mac OS X to regularly back up my MacBook’s disk.

Note: We recently migrated to using the built-in Time Machone support found in the more recent firmware versions for the QNAP TS-109 NAS server.

Mac OS X Time Machine

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Apr 21

I picked up a Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray device for our living room TV area as a replacement for an older Sony DVD player. My main goal was to get a single device that could access NetFlix’s online streaming service and have a built-in DVD/Blu-ray player. At a cost of $180 USD I am impressed by what this device offers.
Samsung BD-C5500

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Mar 26

As a follow-on to our implementation of text to speech (TTS) announcements of weather conditions and alerts over our home ceiling speakers, we thought it would be useful to feed caller ID name from our home phone line into the TTS system. My mobile phone has a similar feature where it verbally announces known callers. It was surprising to me, but the feature on my mobile is pretty useful: when I am busy and I get a call from a known caller, I can make a decision to pick up without needing to touch the phone.

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Mar 25

Over the past year I’ve been setting up and populating the kampmeier.com genealogy site. It has been slow going, but there’s a fair amount of information published to date. My long term goal – 10+ years out – is to map out the lineage of virtually all of the Kampmeiers that arrived in the United States in the 1800s. This sounds daunting, but the good news is that the number of Kampmeiers arriving in that period is manageable. As I add capabilities and content to the site, I am hoping that I can engage other people, mostly Kampmeiers, in contributing information.

The site is currently centered around the TNG or The Next Generation of Genealogy Site Building application provided by Darrin Lythgoe. For $30 USD, Darrin’s app provides a lot of bang for the buck. I am hosting the app along with the supporting database, this blog and my home monitoring software on a lightweight server in my home. (I’d use a hosting provider, but since my home monitoring system depends on local sensors and such, it makes sense for me to run all of this stuff locally).

Here’s a quick list of the current features of the genealogy site:

  • Roughly mapped three lines of Kampmeiers from their arrival in the 1800s to the mid-1900s
  • Added documents obtained through Ancestry.com and other sources
  • Connected a wiki such that contributors can add free-form narratives for persons and places of interest

In addition to adding more documents that I have in hand, the next set of site features will involve:

  • Common look and feel across the TNG and wiki apps
  • Revised main page that places the wiki front and center and the raw TNG data in the background
  • Integration of either this blog or a dedicated Kampmeier genealogy blog.
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