Posted on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020
For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.
So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.
Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...
Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...
Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.
Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.
I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.
There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.
I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.
Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.
For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...
Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.
I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.
Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.
And so... bravo Plex.
I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.
UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.
So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...
...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...
Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.
My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.
QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.
Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).
Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.
I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.
Posted on Sunday, April 5th, 2020
The world may be at a standstill, but the blog keeps turning... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Free-Fitty-Free! For the month of April, HBO is streaming some of their most acclaimed content for free, no subscription required. A full list of shows and instructions can be found here and, if you need a recommendation, I'd take a look at Bill Hader's Barry which is a pretty great show. It starts off a little slow... but snowballs into insanity in short order.
• Nice! I love projects like this one...
The world is smaller than we realize. Given current events, it's good to remember that.
• Upload! You know when you see a trailer and it's so good that all you can think is how the actual show couldn't possibly live up to what you're watching... but you are hopeful anyway? That's me watching this...
Greg Daniels is running the show, so I have reason to be hopeful. But still... fingers crossed.
• Disney At Home! A Disney animator is teaming up with Josh Gad to create some Frozen shorts while quarantined at home. The result is pretty great...
The tools make things easier and easier for animators... but they don't mean a lot if the person doing the animating can't tell a story.
• Buttholes! I said a while back that this is the only way I would ever watch Cats. And here's why...
This is the only way I'd ever watch Batman vs. Superman again too.
• One?! So laughable that an abhorrent network devoted to far-right presidential dick-sucking can in any way claim to be serving "One America," but here it is...
Thank heavens that John Oliver is still doing his show while under quarantine at home.
• Munneh! I had $90 in PayPal that wasn't doing anything, so I signed up for a Robinhood account and got their app so I can play the stock market. I'm now worth $108.23, so my market savvy has me well on my way towards becoming a billionaire, I can feel it! — I will try not to forget you, the little people, once I am a part of the 1% and above your petty existence.
And that's all the bullets we have for today.
Posted on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020
I've made no secret of my love for CGP Grey videos. They are always so beautifully researched... wonderfully animated... fantastically educational... and amazingly entertaining.
But it's the subtle little moments in his videos that slay me.
In his latest double-video installment on pirates (from two different perspectives!) he illustrates pirates loving treasure by having them rub it all over their faces...
And here are the actual videos which are well worth your time to watch. Very cool stuff...
If only I had the time and patience to create such awesomeness.
Posted on Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
I've written a couple times about my love of GigaPan images. It's a really cool technology which stitches together tons of hi-resolution images to form one massive photo that you can zoom into to ridiculous degrees. Most of the time, GigaPan is used for capturing scenery. You see the scene and then can zoom and zoom and zoom to reveal all kinds of little details.
But you can use GigaPixel for all kinds of things.
A really cool application is artwork.
I've been to Milan, Italy in order to see The Last Supper. It's a magnificent work of art by one of my favorite artists, Leonardo da Vinci...
One of you bitches is going to betray me!
And now Google's Arts & Culture has posted a painting of the painting by one of Leonardo da Vinci's pupils which is presented in GigaPan format...
What's interesting is that you can see how the original masterpiece showed Jesus's feet, which were chopped off when somebody decided to cut a door into the wall of the original.
And since this is GigaPan, you can zoom into the canvas to a crazy degree...
All in all, it's pretty spectacular.
If you want to explore the painting yourself, here's a link for you.
Posted on Wednesday, October 7th, 2020
This Wednesday entry will not be posted on Wednesday.
I don't have internet. I don't have celular service. I am completely off the grid.
I remember an email being circulated at work last week which mentioned something about an outage from 10pm to 8am, but I didn't plan to be at work during those hours, so I didn't pay much attention. I received NO notification that my internet would be interrupted at home. If I had, I would have probably ignored that as well, because I can always use the data on my iPhone to reach the internet, right? Nope! Apparently AT&T's cellular tower in my small city uses the same internet as my work and home, so that's non-functional as well.
It's this last point that really pisses me off.
AT&T never told me that my mobile phone would be down tonight. I was never made aware that my phone service was internet-dependent. And it begs the question... what the fuck happens if I have an emergency and need to dial 9-1-1 for help? Well, I'll tell you exactly what happens... nothing!
How in the hell is it that a mobile carrier can be run through an internet connection? Internet connections can be flakey as hell, and phone service really can't afford to be flakey as hell. And when AT&T says that they've "built the best and fastest celular network" they really haven't... because if they had, I would still have fucking phone service!
And it gets better.
Since I have no television, no Alexa, no Amazon Music Unlimited, I thought I could just play the media on my Plex server. Nope again! For whatever reason, the server could be found by my laptop and iPhone, but Plex would not play video. After much wheel-spinning I could play music, but it took forever for the data to start streaming. My Plex clients have been told to use the local network, but they refuse to do it because they're constantly looking for an internet connection. And of course my AppleTV was useless despite being plugged directly into the same hub as my Plex Server because apparently it needs internet to even function.
This is all something I need to look into, because being able to access my media without internet access is why I bought Plex in the first place!
What a shitty night.
I suppose I'll just take sleeping pills and go to bed. What else is there?
Posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2020
The first snow of the season would cause lesser blogs to crumble, but not this blog... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Bridges! One of the things that boggles my mind when I travel is how old the world's architecture is. Notre Dame de Paris cathedral started construction in 1163, for example. The Colosseum in Rome was built in in the year 0070-something. And the Great Pyramid of Giza? Oh... that started in the year 2580 BC. How they were constructed is not really a mystery (despite people thinking the pyramids were built by aliens and shit) and it's no less fascinating than the structures themselves. Still, reading about how they were made is not the same as seeing it...
Makes me think of the amazing David Macaulay books, which were responsible for my escalating love of architecture as a kid. Some of them were animated by PBS, and boy wouldn't it be amazing to see more of that. In the meanwhile, we get an occasional video like this tossed our way.
• More! And so... Borders is dead. LONG LIVE BORDERS!
Thank heavens Johnny Harris is still making videos despite the rug being pulled out from under him when his series was canceled.
• Quibi-Free! It's kinda hilarious that absolutely everybody knew that crappy short-form streaming service, Quibi, would be a massive failure... except founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman. They had a shitty concept with shitty "shows" and it was inevitable that it wouldn't work (WE BELIEVE SHORT-FORM VIDEOS ARE THE FUTURE OF ENTERTAINMENT... HERE'S PART ONE OF SEVEN!). I thought it might take a year before they shut it down. It only took six months. Not a good day for the people and companies which invested ONE POINT SEVEN BILLION FUCKING DOLLARS! Wealth is wasted on the wealthy. Holy shit... just think of the shows we could have gotten for that kind of money. Blergh.
• Hallmark? Weird that the promos from Netflix's slate of cheesy romance movies are out-Hallmarking Hallmark. As shown in the movie Falling Inn Love and the trailer for Operation Christmas Drop, Netflix is serious about quality over quantity, which is the exact opposite of Hallmark. We got another darn fine looking cheesy trailer for another cheesy Christmas romance...
Yeah, I'll be tuning into that one too.
• Normalization! I've added my pronouns to all my social media crap because I am 100% onboard with anything that encourages somebody to be who they are and live their best life at zero cost to me...
If you can remember their name, you can remember their pronouns. You don't have to agree with it. You don't even have to care. Because it has absolutely nothing to do with you. It's just common courtesy and common courtesy should be normalized. This should be our default.
• Bennu! After a little over four years, NASA's OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) finally made contact with the asteroid 101955 Bennu. It's mission is to grab a 2oz. sample of "asteroid stuff" off the asteroid...
Miraculously, OSIRIS-REx did too good a job. It ended up grabbing for more than anticipated. It sucked up so much that the sample collection door couldn't close and they are having to deal with that. But will this sample give us any insight into the origins of the universe? We won't know until OSIRIS-REx returns in three years. After that, we're not exactly done with 101955 Bennu. In its Wikipedia entry, we learn that the asteroid has a "cumulative 1-in-2,700 chance of impacting Earth between 2175 and 2199."
• Hole! Falling down a YouTube rabbit hole is not always a bad thing. I've grown tired of trying to hunt down new podcasts to listen to while I work, so I've been playing YouTube videos that I can listen to while I work. One such YouTube channel I've been obsessed over this past week is Lindsay Ellis. She's a writer who has an interesting viewpoint on a number of topics. I accidentally came across her while researching the term "Streisand Effect" and there was no turning back. My favorite videos are when she does deep dives on Disney. They're fantastic...
But don't stop there, she's got thoughts on a myriad of topics. This one completely surprised me...
Intrigued? You can find her YouTube Channel here.
I'd go out to play in the snow, but it has long since melted.