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Cable Chameleon

Posted on June 11th, 2020

Dave!Now that I have enough hard drive space in my NAS (Network Attached Storage), I need to transfer the tens of thousands of photos I've collected from my hard disk photo archive to the NAS. That way I can access them anywhere at any time.

Problem is that I couldn't connect them together because I didn't have a cable to do it... despite having dozens of fucking cables piled up in my cupboard. My photo archive drive is Thunderbolt only. My NAS is USB-A only. Which means half of the problem is that support for Thunderbolt has been dropped. The other half is that USB ports keep changing. So even though I was dragging out various old drives to use as "hubs" in the hope that I could find a port/cable combination which would work, nothing ever did. After an hour I finally just gave up.

I finally had to borrow a drive enclosure from work so I could put my photo archive drives inside and get it hooked up to my NAS. I'll get on that tonight and see if everything will copy while I sleep.

At this point I should just come out and say it... the way USB keeps changing? It fucking sucks. There are a ridiculous number of USB port variations, and I have devices which use most of them. And why? Why are there so many?

JUST LOOK AT THIS SHIT...

And it doesn't stop there. All our prayers were supposed to be answered now that we've got USB-C... right?

Um, no. Turns out it's as bad as ever...

And so I guess I can just give up now.

Perhaps what I have to do is throw out absolutely everything everywhere that I own and start over. For every old drive I've got I buy a new drive, transfer the data over, then just burn all the old drives in a massive bonfire.

If anybody wants to give me the hundreds of dollars needed to make that happen...

UPDATE: And it didn't work. Apparently Wester Digital changed the proprietary RAID software they use between my older RAID enclosure and my work's newer RAID enclosure. The drives are incompatible. Instead I managed to find an old Thuderbolt-to-Ethernet dongle. Since my old laptop has two Thunderbolt ports and no ethernet port, that's what I had to use so that I could make the transfer via gigabyte ethernet from my Thunderbolt photo archive RAID to the NAS. Holy shit what a horrific mess.

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The Sound of Tech Obsolescence

Posted on June 9th, 2020

Dave!SONOS released their new OS, called S2, today and I was excited to see what's new.

My Mac made me aware of the new S2 app when I loaded their old app this evening. So I downloaded the new app... only to be told that no S2 compatible devices were found. Since my One speakers are fairly new, I was pissed that they even told me about the update. Maybe my SONOS PlayBar is too old? Then I Googled it and found that apparently you have to upgrade the hardward with the new SONOS iPhone app. So I got that, performed an upgrade to everything, then my Mac S2 app recognized my S2 gear. Why the hell they didn't just allow the Mac app to do the upgrade is a mystery. What if you don't own a smart phone?

Anyway... now my stuff is all running S2. No clue what that does for me, as everything looks and acts the exact same. When I Googled that I found that apparently the only device to make use of the new S2 OS features is the Sonos Arc television bar. An $800 product which adds Dolby Atmos capabilities to your setup.

Soooo... S2 is just a big load of crap for anybody except those who throw out their old gear. Got it.

The sad news is that eventually I will have to replace my PlayBar anyway. It only accepts audio over optical digital, and newer televisions don't really support that. I could get an adapter, but it would be senseless since so few audio codecs can be sent to the speakers that way. It's only dumb luck that the television I bought sends Dolby Surround over optical. Most contemporary sets don't.

My disgust over the disposable society we live in continues. I can only hope that eventually SONOS or some third party releases an upgrade module so the old PlayBar can receive audio over HDMI. Even if it's only Dolby Surround and not Dolby Atmos, it would at least allow me to keep using my pricey investment in SONOS gear.

Tech obsolescence is inevitable. I get that. But sometimes it really doesn't have to be. Like with frickin' speakers. Being able to modify old gear to have new life should be a thing. But it's not, because that's not where the money is.

Confirmation can be found in your local landfill.

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Better Dead than (WD) Red

Posted on June 1st, 2020

Dave!My drama with my home NAS (Network Attached Storage) is ongoing.

Last December I took money I had saved for a trip with my mom to the fjords of Normway (our next vacation destination after our Africa trip that wasn't to be) and sunk it into a QNAP NAS on which I would store all my photos, music, and other media files. That way I could access them anywhere yet still have them under my control. As I noted in the above link I wasn't terribly happy with the QNAP unit I bought, finding that it provided crap media services that look like shit when connected directly to my television. Instead I had to abandon all the pricey QNAP media extras I paid for and install Plex, a brilliant media organization server app for which I immediately bought a lifetime subscription. It's amazing, and allows my QNAP NAS to do all the things I wanted it to do.

Along with the NAS, I purchased two Western Digital Red 8TB drives to go inside.

Almost immediately after I got everything running, I found out that Western Digital, a company I had loved and patronized faithfully for decades, had started sneaking chaep-ass SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) drives into their popular "Red" line of NAS drives. As explained in this video, SMR is a pile of fucking bullshit that should never be used in NAS applications...

Western Digital has been all over the map with responding to customer enquiries. At one point they said that the 8TB drives I bought didn't use SMR, but who knows? They later retracted and said they refuse disclose that information.

Well fuck that, and definitely fuck them. I will never buy another Western Digital product until they start disclosing critical information that people need to know in order to make informed purchasing decisions. Or maybe I will never buy another Western Digital product again even if they do. Right now I hate that fucking company so badly that I don't plan on spending a single dollar more on their crap.

So now that I've saved up a couple hundred bucks to purchase a second set of drives for all my photos, I decided to go with Seagate IronWolf drives since Seagate has categorically denied using SMR in them. Furthermore, Seagate went on to say that they don't recommend SMR for NAS applications and won't saddle their customers with a shitty, inapropriate product. Good enough for me. I will be switching to IronWolf for any future drive purchases... including the one I just made.

It's a strange feeling... being so loyal to a company that you wouldn't even consider using a different brand... then all of a sudden have to switch gears and go with something else because you got shitted on. Same thing happened with Panasonic. I had bought Panasonic gear for years and loved it... until I bought one of their shitty recording DVD players and could never get it to work. They refused to take responsibility, blamed everything on me despite my following along with their step-by-step instructions over six support calls, then said they would only repair it if I paid for shipping both ways. Rather than continue to sink money into a worthless piece of shit, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Nothing happened. But I haven't bought a single piece of Panasonic gear since, that's for damn sure.

As word continues to spread about Western Digital's duplicitous behavior and reprehensible response to some serious allegations, I can't help but wonder if they have really screwed themselves. Sure consumer demand might stay steady since home-users won't know... or possibly won't care... that WD is a deceitful company, but IT professionals? Yikes. The pro NAS market is some serious bread and butter to lose en masse.

Oh well. You roll the dice, you take your chances.

But how Western Digital thought people wouldn't notice just boggles the mind. It's as if Coca-Cola switched to New Coke but never bothered to advertise it. They just thought people wouldn't care.

We all know what happened in that scenario.

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Bullet Sunday 659

Posted on April 26th, 2020

Dave!Yeah, we're all still in isolation quarantine, but there's a bright spot in the darkness... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Cool! I've been to the Space Needle dozens of times over the years. They have cut-away images you can look at, so I already know what's inside and how it works, but this 3-D video is a pretty great way to look at it...

One of the most famous features of the structure has been the "Sky City Revolving Restaurant" which closed back in 2017 when they rennovated everything. I assumed that it would be open again by now, but I just checked and there's still no revolving restaurant to be found. Instead the space is still "The Loupe" which is a revolving platform with a glass floor. I guess that's more of a draw because more people can enjoy it? The restaurant was always so expensive that I've only ever been there once.

   
• Stuck! Lately I've had a hard time getting the song Adore You by Harry Styles out of my head. For the past week I've been playing it several times a day...

I wish I knew why certain songs stick with me at certain times. I mean, I liked Adore You when it was released, but now I addicted to it or something. I'm trying to replace it with the latest by Pet Shop Boys, but it isn't working so far...

Amazing how the boys are still able to kill it after all these years. Their music is always good.

   
• Driven! I bought Western Digital drives for my NAS because my past experience with them has been excellent. Now I find out that the pricey new drives I bought for my NAS may be low-quality pieces of shit that will likely fail sooner than expected because the way I use the data on my NAS is incongruent with the way the drive technology WD employs was designed to be used. I have 8TB drives which WD says are using the correct technology... but the part number has the "EFAX" suffix which designates cheap-ass shit, so who knows?

I am so sick and tired of companies like this not giving a shit about their customers. And yet this is the way businesses are run now. They sneak in low-quality shit, charge the same price as usual-quality shit, and the customer never need know they've been screwed until their data is lost. And at that point it's like "Oh... too bad... so sorry... if you're in warranty, we'll send you a replacement shitty drive... if you're not under warranty, go fuck yourself!" Because in today's disposible society, it's cheaper to replace shit with more shit until the warranty runs out than to actually make good quality shit in the first place.

   
• Flight Attendants in Quarantine! Ha!

Make no mistake, flight attendants have a really tough job. Trapped on a plane at work with a bunch of people... some of which treat them badly. Hopefully they can laugh along with the rest of us at something like this.

   
• In Control! Every time I start up Netflix there's a new show being shoved on me called Too Hot To Handle and I IMMEDIATELY start singing "Too hot to handle, too cold to hold, they're called the Ghostbusters and they're in control!" Say what you like about Bobby Brown, but the guy knows how to sing a hook that gets stuck in your head!

No idea what Too Hot To Handle is about. Looks like it's yet another show like Temptation Island where you win by not giving into temptation of all the sexy people prancing around? Whatever. Really not interested enough to investigate.

   
• Foxy! Aren't foxes the most amazing animals?

I will never admit how many times I've watched this.

   
• After! I loved the first season of Ricky Gervais's After Life and remember feeling a bit lost when it ended because it was only six episodes. Now, at long last, Netflix has released another six episodes for the second season (NSFW trailer follows)...

Even better than the first season. A shoe-in for my "Best of Television 2020" list. It's all at once hysterically funny and agonizingly sad. Postman Pat is one of my favorite television characters ever. Which is next-level funny if you know that Postman Pat is a British cartoon with an unrelated character with the same name from the 1980's...

Compare this charming cartoon to the character from the show and it's a bit disturbing... but in the best possible way.

   
And now I guess I'll go back to doing as much nothing as possible before work tomorrow.

   

A Matter of Scale at $20

Posted on April 14th, 2020

Dave!As I mentioned when I reviewed the cool and capable little $25 "Wyze Band" fitness wearable, I would be reviewing the new "Wyze Scale" later. Well, it's now later.

I am not somebody who has ever really struggled with their weight. When I was a kid I was impossibly skinny no matter what I did or how much I ate. As I've gotten older I've definitely managed to fill out but, as I discovered when I had to go on a carb-restricted diet for a while, the weight can fall of scarily easily. I remember crying on the bathroom scale because every day I was losing weight with no end in sight. I did not want to go back to that skinny kid I was in high school. Eventually I was able to eat carbs again and quickly put on too much weight. Oh well.

Even so, I'm a big fan of Wyze products and decided to buy their $20 "smart scale" despite the fact that I never really use a scale...

My Animal Crossing Island Map.

And why did I part with $20 for something I haven't historically had much use for?

Two reasons...

First of all, it does more than just weigh you. It also sends low-level electricity through your body for a "Bio-electric Impedance Analysis" of your physical make-up. Because of the way that electricity flows through muscle and fat, the resulting measurement gives you a fairly accurate body fat percentage. This is used to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI), Lean Body Mass (LBM), Muscle Mass, Body Water Percentage, Protein Percentage, Visceral Fat, Bone Mass, Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and Metabolic Age. I have no idea what half that stuff is, but...

Second of all, it integrates with Apple Health right out of the box. Which means all those calculations I don't understand can be available to my doctor if he ever needs them because I have Apple Health syncing with my medical chart.

If there were a third thing, it would be that Wyze Scale can also measure your heart rate. Something my Wyze Band already does.

I have two other scales. One is a classic physical spring model, the other is a cheap digital scale. Both of which my mom bought and I inherited. Comparing my weight on all three, the Wyze scale and spring scale were almost identical. The cheap digital scale had me almost a pound heavier. Given that it is a cheap digital scale, I'm just going to say that the Wyze Scale is accurate since it matches up with the my "tried-and-true" original spring scale.

I have no way of knowing if the "Bio-electric Impedance Analysis" measurements and calculations are accurate. My guess is that they are not perfect compared to what you'd get at the doctor's office, but they are likely accurate enough to get a general picture of what those readings might be.

Wyze Scale syncs with the Wyze App when you open it via Bluetooth. I put the scale in my personal bathroom which is two rooms down from my bedroom and the app had no problem reading it from there. I couldn't get a reading downstairs, but Bluetooth does have its limits, of course.

And then we get to the Wyze app for Wyze Scale... which is abysmally bad. Parts of it are even worse than the abysmally bad Wyze Band app, if you can believe it. Once again Wyze has decided to dumb down and spread out the information as if you were viewing it on a tiny watch face instead of a frickin' phone and it's infuriating. I mean, at a glance, the home screen is fine. Kinda. Well, no, not actually...

My iPhone screen showing the absurdly stupid visual interface for the Wyze Scale.

Just look at all that wasted space! Holy crap! They could have easily put everything on one screen, but nope. Once again we get this idiotic tiny-watch-face-screen mentality that plagued the app for Wyze Band!

I mean just look at THIS...

A HUGE blank white screen with a single number for my Muscle Mass floating in the middle... and the text truncated with a 'See More' Link.

Wyze could have listed every damn reading that the scale calculates in that massive blank space. But instead we get ONE reading floating in the middle of a blank screen? You have to swipe to get to all the others! And that's not even the worst part... see where you have to click "See More" because the text explaining the reading is cut-off? There must be a book's worth of text left to display, right? Nope!

A HUGE blank white screen with a single number for my Muscle Mass floating in the middle... and the rest of the text that was cut off, which was barely anything.

Five lines were truncated. Five lines! and they displayed them NOT in a link to another page... BUT ON THE SAME DAMN PAGE! Seriously, Wyze, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!? Why in the hell didn't they just display the full text on the original page? And it's not just this "Muscle Mass" page... IT'S EVERY FUCKING PAGE!

Good Lord. Just display ALL the information on the home screen. There's plenty of room for it. And then have people click on each reading if they want more information. That's like APP DESIGN 101, isn't it? Are users really going to need to read this every fucking time they want to know their reading? I'm betting not. Unless they have 24-hour amnesia or something. And where is a graph of my data over time like you gave me for my weight? This is senseless.

But here's the real kicker. How the fuck do I know what a Muscle Mass of 130.2 even means? Oh... that's right... I'm not a doctor, so I don't! Wyze couldn't even be bothered to say what a "normal" range for me would be. I had to Google that shit. And even then I had to pull out the calculator, because the way that everybody else on earth calculates Muscle Mass is to display it as a percentage! Wyze gives it to you as a weight. When I divide it by my weight, I get 71%. The desirable muscle mass for men my age is 73% to 86%. And so... I need more muscle or I am going to die, I guess? Who knows. But holy crap. Wyze just drops the ball here badly with their app. It's so bad that I'm dangerously close to saying their $20 scale is a bad buy. Hopefully Wyze takes a seriously hard look at their app and figures out how the hell to make something useful out of it. Because right now? Horrifically bad.

As I get older and have to deal with the inevitable host of problems that come with age, I am more and more interested in using available technology to keep track of what's happening with my body and (hopefully) give me a health picture so I can stave off potential problems. With Wyze Scale (and, alas, Google), for example, I now know that my muscle mass is below where it should be and maybe I should do something about that while I am still able. It's just such a shame that Wyze makes it so damn difficult to use the data that Wyze Scale and Wyze Band are collecting. Technology should be making my life easier, not harder.

In the end, my experience with Wyze has me appreciating all the more how Apple is approaching the same idea to their products. They are all about collecting data for your health then simplifying it and explaining it so you can make positive changes to improve your life. Wyze just collects the data, spits it out at you in difficult, confusing, and inexplicable ways, and leaves it to you to figure out what in the hell to do with it.

But, hey, Wyze Scale is $20. Wyze Band is $25. Apple is considerably more expensive, so bravo to Wyze for at least trying to make the tech affordable... if not understandable. But man is it disappointing that the app for their cameras shows so much pollish when the newer apps are just so bad. Surely they are working on improving things, right? I sure hope so.

If Wyze Band and Wyze Scale has done nothing else for me, they've made me really want to get to the point that I can wear an Apple Watch. I look at the amazing things it can do to help me manage my health and it's almost a no-brainer. Except for that "I hate wearing watches" thing. And the price tag, of course.

   

Playing with the Band for $25

Posted on April 8th, 2020

Dave!I have tried and tried and tried to wear watches. Thanks to my bony arms, I just can't do it. They are bulky and uncomfortable and I never seem to be able to get used to having one on me. I have one watch that my sister gave me which I love and wear on special occasions, but that's it.

As you can imagine, this is incredibly frustrating because I would love to have an Apple Watch. They look to be an incredible tool and I am really interested in the heart rate monitor (which can detect irregular rhythms) and ECG functionality.

Problem is that I know what would happen if I got one. I would buy it... try to get used to it... fail... then end up selling it. Which is what happened with my Pebble watch (remember them?). That's an expensive experience to relive.

It might be easier if Apple Watch were thinner so it didn't stick up so much. Or narrower so I could bend my wrist without noticing it so much. But all that power comes with a need for hefty real estate, so that's probably not happening any time soon.

But I still want one.

Enter Wyze Band.

Wyze is a company that makes some cheap technology products which also happen to be very, very good. Their cameras are so amazing that they seem almost too good to be true. I have a half-dozen of them that I use to supplement my wired and wireless security system. And because they're just $20, they are the cameras I also glue to the top of the cat shelters I build so I can keep an eye on Fake Jake...

Fake Jake cuddled up on the heating pad in his kitty igloo sleeping with a smile on his face.

I also have Wyze Plugs (smart internet-controlled electrical plugs), Wyze Bulbs (smart lightbulbs), and Wyze Sense (motion and contact sensors for home security). If I didn't already have smart-locks on my doors, I'd absolutely be buying Wyze Locks. And that's not all... Wyze recently released a Wyze Scale (which I'll be reviewing later) and Wyze Band. And since it was just $25, I thought I might as well get it. If, for no other reason, to see if I could train myself to wear it so that maybe I'd be more confident in buying an Apple Watch.

As with all Wyze products, it's really good quality. It's thick, which I have trouble with, but it's also pretty narrow, which I like...

My Wyze Band on my wrist looking all black and stylish.

The Wyze Band itself has a clock (of course) plus heart, sleep, and activity monitors, a running monitor, Alarms, smart home controls, and Alexa built-in. For $25, it's pretty darn capable. And stylish. To a point. Unlike Apple Watch which is designed to be as smooth as possible, Wyze Band had all kinds of seams and nooks and crannies which can collect dust and dirt. The seam around the display is pretty big (relatively) and would have really benefitted from being made flush, as mine started getting dust in it almost immediately.

Controlling all the Wyze Band functions is pretty straight-forward. You use swipes and taps to move between apps, and there's a small "home bar" at the bottom of the screen which is used to exit apps (short press) or activate Alexa (long press). The Alexa integration is pretty incredible if a bit flaky (it uses your phone's cellular data connection to get to the internet). I can tell Wyze Band to turn on a light at my home when I'm away... it will work just fine and I can see the light turn on... but it will respond with ""Sorry, I don't understand" even though it obviously did. I have no idea why the feedback is so poor when the implementation is working great, but maybe that will be addressed in an update. Regular Alexa functions... like asking a question... works flawlessly every time...

My Wyze Band showing Alexa integration. I asked it WHAT IS THE CAPITAL OF PARAGUAY and it answered with THE CAPITAL OF PARAGUARY IS ASUNCIÓN.

There is a "Shortcut" feature which allows you to bundle a bunch of actions into a single command. Right now you don't have a lot of options here... it's only other Wyze products which can be input... but I'd imagine there will be more options in the future.

The heart rate monitor seems capable, though I can't really vouch for its accuracy without having an actual heart rate monitor to compare it with. I have a relatively high resting heart rate (I seriously need to start exercising) so this feature is appealing. Though I don't know if there are any alerts if there's a problem. You can measure your heart rate on demand from Wyze Band, or look at your reading trend all graphed out on the Wyze iPhone app.

My Wyze Band showing my heart rate data... currently 91bpm, average 97bpm.

The "Steps" feature will count the number of steps you take... kinda like a FitBit. I'm not terribly interested in this (though I should be!) but it seems kinda-sorta-accurate from what I can tell. Wave your arm around enough and you'll be getting "steps" without getting up from the couch, but the margin of error for stuff like that is probably small if you are actually going for walks and such.

There is a "Find" feature which will play a tone on your iPhone when you can't find it... though you have to (obviously) be in bluetooth range for it to work. You can also use your iPhone to find your Wyze Band, but it's almost useless because all the Wyze Band can do is vibrate since it doesn't have a speaker. No idea how you're supposed to "hear" a vibration happening between the couch cushions, but it's there if you want it.

The last function for Wyze Band is a weather app. At first I found it pretty useless because I had to scroll through several other apps to get to it, but once I found out that I could rearrange them, it was a lot more useful. If there were a way of displaying the time on the weather app, that would become my default screen. It seems silly that this isn't an option, because the main clock face has a huge swatch of unused space in the middle! A big blue worthless blobby thing that could be displaying information! (I customized it to be a photo of my cats instead of the blue blob). I dunno. Maybe there's a way to make this happen and I just haven't found it yet?

There are some down-sides, however. First of all, I've read that unless the Wyze app is running on your phone, the Alexa integration fails. Since my iPhone doesn't seem to have a way of forcing an app to stay running in the background, I'm assuming that iPhone will close it out due to inactivity at some point, and Alexa will be gone until I restart. Another problem is that Apple Health integration was promised to work out of the box. But after failing to figure out how to make this happen, I see that it's "coming soon." Well, BOOOOOOOOO! I'm increasingly loving how Apple Health integrates with my health chart at my doctor's office so he can monitor my activity any time he thinks he needs to do so. Adding the heart rate data was a big selling point for Wyze Band to me.

Another down-side is the iPhone app. On the tiny screen of the Wyze Band, the visual interface is pretty good. Easy to navigate and operate. But on my iPhone, which has a much bigger screen and touch-surface area, they decided to not take advantage of any of that real estate... instead they inexplicably just blow up the watch's interface...

My iPhone screen showing the absurdly stupid visual interface for the Wyze Band.

This makes absolutely NO sense. Just give me my damn data! Don't wrap it up in a cutesy interface that has no damn business being on a phone! There's is no reason... absolutely none... for Wyze to have done this other than they could. It makes no logical sense why you would force people to swipe and tap through all this crap when you have plenty of room for something better, and I hope to God that they revisit this in an app update.

In the end, Wyze Band is a fairly impressive product for just $25. More of a FitBit competitor than an Apple Watch competitor, it's good at what it's designed to do and yet another feather in the cap for Wyze. Considering a FitBit is minimum four times the price, it's hard not to recommend Wyze Band if you're in the market for "smart band."

Will this lead to me eventually getting an Apple Watch? That's the goal. Right now I am mostly able to ignore Wyze Band, which is a good start. Whether that will be the case long-term I honestly don't know.

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Ancient Technology of a Bygone Era

Posted on February 21st, 2020

Dave!As I mentioned just over a year ago AND way back in 2011(!), I have a massive number of files archived on old media. As I said at the time, "At some point Real Soon Now, I need to transfer all my older files to Amazon's online storage. Then it doesn't matter if I can't read CDs or magneto-optical, or ZIP, or JAZ, or SyQuest... all I have to worry about is whether or not I can read the format that the files are in."

Turns out that today was the day.

I had an image file from 1994 that I absolutely could not do without, and so I ended up having to drag my old PowerMac G3 (from 1997) out of the basement at work so I could figure out how to get the files off the darn thing. It was the latest Mac I had with SCSI on it... and the only Mac I had with both SCSI and ethernet!

Say what you will about Apple, but their computers are reliable as all get-out. The thing turned on immediately...

MacOS 9 on an old Mac

Though I'm kinda glossing over what it took for me to get to this point.

First I had to find a display that would work. I have a fairly big one with the correct connector, but I wasn't sure that a Mac this old had enough video memory to use it. And so here I am with this teeny-tiny CRT monitor that crackles from time to time, which means it will likely explode (implode?) any minute now. But hey, all I'm doing is looking at files, so it's all good.

This was pre-USB, so I had to look through a mass of boxes full of cables and keyboards and mice to find ADB-compatible peripherals. Easier said than done. The first mouse I tried had a ball that had shrunk and no functioning button. The first keyboard had characters that refused to type.

The first several times I booted it up, it would stall for some reason. But each time it would get a little further. This was weird, but eventually it was booting up all the way.

And then it told me that my computer's date was at 1956 or something like that, so it took another few attempts at booting up before I could manage to change it. After that I had no problems booting... but a real headache trying to get everything running.

Attempting to figure out how to make SCSI devices mount without conflict is all voodoo to me. You just have to keep trying until something works. Then, what works for the Jaz drive doesn't work for the Magneto-Optical drive, so you have to start all over again.

While the computer had an ethernet port, I could not speak to any server on the network. It was still using AppleTalk over Ethernet, and that had been turned off ages ago. So how was I going to get my files off of JAZ and Magneto-Optical SCSI disks? Turns out the answer was FTP, baby. This ancient Mac had Fetch 3 installed!

Also installed? WARLORDS II (!) One of my favorite games of all time. It's been ported in various ways to various platforms, but it never seems to work the same. I guess now I've got a way to actually play it again if I really want to...

Warlords II playing on an old Mac

Warlords II playing on an old Mac

One thing I had forgotten about from the good ol' pre-OS-X days was having to allot memory for your apps...

Warlords II playing on an old Mac

Guess that what happens when you're running with a whopping 160MB of memory! Happy those days are over.

Interesting to note that the "secure internet" is not browsable in the three browsers I had loaded on this machine (including Netscape and Internet Explorer). But if I go in an turn off the security certificate redirect on Blogography, there it is...

Blogography on an old Mac

My sites which are not secure load surprisingly well...

DaveCafe on an old Mac

But the display was a bit wonky, with stuff floating way down the page. Which, let's be honest, is not surprising given that I was running Internet Explorer.

But anyway...

Eventually my files were found, I got them transferred to an FTP server, and all was good in the world (after I found out that Stuffit makes a .SIT archive extractor for modern Macs).

And that was the excitement for my Friday.

   

QNAP if You’re NASty

Posted on January 22nd, 2020

Dave!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.

Anyway...

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...

A visual comparison of an original photo of a sunset vs. the version Plex serves up.

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...

Make sure the NAS can be reached and refresh the page!

...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...

QNAP Robot Assistant

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.

And so...

  • I fucking hate the fact that QNAP doesn't really work as a media center as advertised. THAT'S WHY I PAID EXTRA FOR THIS MODEL!
  • Their video apps are worthless garbage that can't even do rudimentary shit like fast forward video.
  • They don't include enough memory to do even basic tasks.
  • Their HDMI television output can not be altered for settings like brightness, contrast, color, etc., which is no big deal considering it's fucking useless without decent apps for it anyway.
  • The included remote control doesn't control shit. And what it can control is garbage and doesn't work.
  • Their web interface is brain-dead idiocy that confuses even the most simple things.
  • Nothing about operation of the QNAP unit is even remotely intuitive. Nothing is easy to find and the byzantine menu system is difficult to use. The fact that they don't have an abstraction interface for moderately-experienced users makes zero sense. They ONLY want to serve the professional market? How strange.

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.

   

Amazon Echo 3rd Generation

Posted on December 3rd, 2019

Dave!I bought a SONOS One smart speaker with Alexa integration for my bedroom. I watch quite a bit of television while working in bed, and the poor speakers on my cheap Sony television make it difficult to hear some conversations unless I crank the volume way too high. The SONOS with its superb sound quality provided the perfect listening environment right out of the box.

When it worked.

The problem with the SONOS One is that there is no "line in" jack... so I had to connect my AppleTV to it via Apple's "AirPlay 2" technology. I have no idea who is at fault, but this was glitchy as hell, and I had all kinds of drop-outs and sound sync errors most every time I watched television. Even worse, at least twice a week I'd turn on the television and AppleTV would "forget" to play through the SONOS One, meaning I had to stop my show, go to the settings menu, switch the audio to AirPlay 2, then start my show again. Incredibly frustrating. Half the time I found myself just leaving it because I didn't want to be bothered with all the futzing around.

And so... I decided to investigate wired speakers. I could probably get a cheap one that was "good enough" for around $30, which seemed a small price to pay.

Around the time I was looking, Amazon released their 3rd Generation "Echo" device which, unlike the old Echo 1st Generation I have in my bathroom, has a 3.5mm line-in jack. This is in addition to improved speakers and sound. Problem was? It was $100. $70 more than I had to spend. Except... Amazon always puts their Echo devices on sale for Black Friday at really good prices. So I added it to my list of stuff to buy... then waited.

Sure enough, the price plummeted to $60. Double what I wanted to spend. But then I saw where I could trade-in my old Echo for $25... plus get a $15 discount for purchasing a new Echo with an Echo trade-in... bringing the net price of the Echo 3rd Gen. to $20? That's under my budget! SOLD!

The new speaker arrived yesterday and I set it up when I got home from work.

Or at least I tried to.

The speaker has a single 3.5mm audio jack that's both line-in and line-out... configurable via the Alexa app. But every time I tapped on the Audio AUX setting I got an error telling me that the page was unavailable...

An Amazon Echo error message saying that the page cannot be loaded and to please try again later.

I went to the Alexa web interface, but the one setting you can't configure from there? The audio AUX setting, of course! I wrote to Amazon for support and they eventually got back to me with an email when, naturally, the page then popped right up for me. And so... I now have an Alexa-enabled speaker for my television. Just like I always wanted!

The sound is pretty darn good for such a small speaker. Not SONOS-level good... not by a longshot... but better than I needed it to be, that's for sure. The cutaway render that Amazon provides shows how the speaker array is fitted in such a compact size (smaller than the SONOS, which means it's short enough to fit under my TV)...

An Amazon Echo cylidner plus a cutaway view showing the speaker array inside.

In the default, I found the midrange to be lacking. Fortunately that's an easy fix from the Alexa app. For television show conversations I got the best sound compromise from boosting the midrange a lot, the treble a little, and decreasing the bass a touch..

The equalizer interface of the Amazon Echo speaker, showing three sliders for bass, midrange, and treble.

The sound is a bit "artificial"... I guess is the word I'm looking for? The SONOS unit has a warmth, brilliance and overall cohesiveness that just sounds better to me. This is not a big deal for television, but I absolutely prefer the sound of music on the SONOS as opposed to the Echo 3rd Gen. — No contest there at all. And yet, the Echo is perfectly good for music when viewed in its own right instead of comparing it to a speaker that's considerably more expensive (especially when I got it for $20 compared to the SONOS One $200!).

My SONOS One is now happily set up in my bathroom (where the original Echo was) so I can listen to a couple songs while I get ready in the morning. That's a huge bit of overkill in a small bathroom like mine, so I might relocate it to the upstairs hall where it can be enjoyed in the stairwell and guest bedroom as well.

So... overall, I'm pleased. $20 well-spent!

The new $38 AKASO dash cam Black Friday deal I ordered arrived as well (regular $66). Installation was tough compared to my original $20 dash cam because the cord was thicker. I had to dismantle panels instead of just poking the cable in a seam. Also? The cord was shorter as well. I barely had enough to get to my console cigarette lighter port (no idea how somebody with a big rig like a truck can have enough cord). This is a far cry from the extra two feet I had coiled in my glove box last time! And speaking of the cigarette lighter port, the plug on this camera was far nicer than the old one. Guess that's what the extra $18 gets you. Fits snug instead of wobbling and breaking connection like the old one. After installing I turned on the ignition and... IT MAKES THE EXACT SAME STARTUP SOUND AS MY CHEAP OLD UNIT! I can only guess this is because they are made by the same company, then a bunch of different manufacturers use the same component in each of their designs...

The AKASO dash cam which is a small wedge-shaped plastic doohickey with a small screen and some buttons.

But the big deal here is the WiFi connectivity, meaning I can download footage directly to my iPhone instead of having to remove the tiny SD card, find the adapter for it, find the USB stick for that, then import through the photos app.

And yet... the WiFi connectivity is far from ideal.

First you have to push a button on the unit... then you have to switch the WiFi source on your iPhone to the WiFi for the unit... then start the app... then download. Ugh. I guess the truly easy connectivity options are in much pricier cameras.

Image quality is not stellar. But it's not tragic either. A little better than my old camera... though both were 1080p, so that could be a lens issue not a sensor issue. This unit has GPS but it's not as accurate as my phone and the satellite acquisition is sometimes longer than it should be.

My new dash cam is not nearly the bargain that my new Amazon Echo 3rd Gen. is... but at least I have something in my car. Thanks to distracted drivers, I'm terrified to drive out of my garage without a camera to prove that some idiot drifted into my lane and nailed me because they were playing Candy Crush or eating spaghetti or texting their kids or whatever. Thanks to today's idiot culture, they would likely blame me for their mistake if I didn't have proof.

Until Black Friday 2020, stay frosty.

   

Professional Prosumer Consumer

Posted on November 20th, 2019

Dave!Most times I am happy that the nitty-gritty details of how electronics work are hidden from me. All I want is for my stuff to "just work" and do what I need it to do with as little drama as possible.

This is a double-edged sword, however.

Apple is famous for wrapping up complex tech into an easy-to use wrapper. This is mostly okay... except when they start taking away needed features in the name of "simplification." In cases like this, just let the user decide whether they want the feature active or not. Because Apple's idea of what's best may not be the same as their customers.

Right now I am fighting this same issue with my Google WiFi mesh router/node system...

Google WiFi Mesh Router System

While not an overly powerful or fast setup, it's worked just fine for me. My entire home and outdoor space has excellent coverage, which has been nice for my cloud cameras and such. If you just want basic Wifi and need it to extend over a large area, it's a decent pick.

Problem is that the app behind it is laughably inadequate.

It lacks so many basic functions that using the label "router" on it feels way generous.

Want to grant traffic priority to a device? Like your AppleTV so it doesn't run into buffering problems? You can do that... FOR A LIMITED TIME PERIOD! There's no way to permanently give a device "priority status." You have to go into the app and set it up EVERY TIME YOU NEED IT. This is asinine. At the very least you should have the option to tell it not to expire until you turn it off!

And then there's the anemic connected devices display. Can't be sorted by device name, IP address, MAC address, or anything else (bandwith usage is the only metric used to order the list). Can't be searched. Can't be exported. Can't be flagged. Can't be throttled. Can't be ordered. Can't be scheduled. Can't be grouped. You can't even have it notify you when a new device is connected. I don't know why they even bother to allow you to look at a list of connected devices since the whole fiasco is functionally useless.

While having just the bare minimum in features would be nice... what Google WiFi really needs is some smarts. What I want is for my cameras to be automatically prioritized when I'm away... and my AppleTV to be prioritized when I'm home. Since Google Wifi already gets this information the second my iPhone comes within range, why is it so fucking difficult to have this happen? It's such an obvious feature that the fact you can't do this is more than a little silly. You can kludge it together with IFTTT... kinda... but prioritization only lasts 2 hours, so that's useless too.

Ultimately, Google WiFi just isn't cutting it. I thought that their Nest WiFi replacement might be the answer, but it uses the same shitty app and doesn't even have WiFi 6 despite just now being released!

Guess this will be something to research come the new year. I don't even want to think about it when I've got a list of a million other things waiting to be done.

   

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