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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.

   

Bullet Sunday 595

Posted on January 13th, 2019

Dave!Don't let the long cold nights of winter get you down... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts now...

   
• Duck! It's no secret that I love museums. I've made it my mission in life to see many of the world's great (and not-so-great) museums as I can. Which is why I got a big kick out of this article: Museums around the world are soliciting duck pics from each other...

A very old duck photograph
Image Courtesy of The Museum of English Rural Life.

If you're even a little fan of art, this article is a must-see.

   
• Cars! These Walmart curbside pickup "cars" commercials are phenomenal...

I can't fathom how much money it cost to license all these properties.

   
• Akeem! One of my all-time favorite movies is Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in multiple roles. It's a great story chock-full of funny situations and had some real heart to it...

Coming to America Movie Poster

There are many other things to love about the film... namely James Earl Jones and Madge Sinclair as Eddie Murphy's parents. But there are also the incredible designs for the country of Zamunda. Make no mistake, Zamunda was Wakanda way before Wakanda was the benchmark for fictional African countries!

And now it comes to light that there is a sequel in the works with Eddie Murphy reprising his role as Prince Akeem. Right now, I am deliriously happy about that. But given how badly things could go wrong, I'm also more than a little nervous.

   
• Again! Again! Speaking of an Eddie Murphy movie getting sequels... apparently Boomerang, another movie I love more than butter, is getting a television sequel...

Coming to America Movie Poster

The show will continue the story with Marcus and Angela's son and Jaqueline's daughter. No word if Eddie Murphy, Halle Berry, or Robin Givens will be making an appearance. But I sure hope so. The thing that gives me hope is that Lena Waithe is onboard. As is Halle Berry as an executive producer. Fingers crossed.

   
• Monument! As somebody who loves travel photography but can't stand people walking through my shots, I was excited to hear about "Monument." This new technology that Adobe is developing will automatically remove moving objects from photos. It's a fascinating idea that I'm anxious to try out. There's a video which takes a look at Moment but Nick Offerman is an idiotic distraction throughout. Why in the hell they couldn't have just presented the tech without the comedic bullshit is beyond me...

It's only a matter of time before machine learning with this kind of smarts gets dropped into all our cameras. As popular attractions become more and more crowded, it will be a handy and very welcome thing to have.

   
• Puck! My new brown sugar container came with a small terra cotta coaster in the box. I was telling a friend about it and laughing because I don't have any glasses small enough to fit on it. "ARE YOU HIGH? YOU SOAK IT IN WATER AND PUT IT IN THE CONTAINER SO YOUR BROWN SUGAR DOESN'T DRY OUT!" In my defense, there weren't any instructions. Just the little puck thingy in a baggie. How was I to know?

Brown Sugar Terra Cotta Disc

Is this some secret everybody knows but me? Is there some brown sugar conspiracy to exclude me from this magic?

   
And... I'm spent. No more bullets for you.

   

Primed for Disappointment

Posted on July 17th, 2018

Dave!I have long wanted a dash-cam to record all the crazy shit I see while driving. It's all so wacky that even I don't believe it sometimes, so it's good to have photographic evidence.

Since I didn't want to invest a ton of money in tech that was going to be obsolete in five minutes, I decided to buy the cheapest camera I could find until the newest generation of cameras with all the cool bells and whistles dropped in price. I ended up paying $28 on Amazon for a dash-cam that was usually $70 (I think it was on closeout?) and that would be good enough. Sure, the picture is crap and it doesn't have many features... but it would be better than the nothing I had at the time.

Three problems...

  1. I keep forgetting to press the "save" button when something interesting happens, so the video gets overwritten.
  2. So much of the crazy happens just outside of the range of the lens, despite it having a fairly wide angle.
  3. Removing the tiny micro SD card to get the video off of it is a huge pain in the ass.

Last night while I was waiting for an email response, I ran out to the car and grabbed the card. Turns out I had four videos saved. Two of them were of my garage door when I installed the thing and kept accidentally pressing buttons. But the other two were from my last drive back over the mountains...

The first was of a guy peeing on the side of the road. Didn't bother to go in the bushes or nothin'... just whipped it out and was peeing. At least his back was turned, but still. Problem is... all the camera captured was his car. And since the video quality is crap, you can barely see that...

Dash-Cam Footage

Dash-Cam Footage

The next video I saved was a deer...

Dash-Cam Footage

Dash-Cam Footage

   
I was hoping that Amazon's Prime Day would have a massive discount on a camera with a GPS, voice-activated save, and wireless download... but it was not to be.

And speaking of Amazon Prime Day, it was a total bust. The only thing I really care about is gift cards at a discount but I can never snag one. I set my alarm... wait for the card I want to be offered... then click to purchase the second it shows up as available... but it's always, always, always sold out. I couldn't get Petco. I couldn't get Panera. I couldn't get American Eagle. The only card I managed to get was iTunes, which is great... but it's insane that Amazon doesn't offer enough cards to last more than 2 seconds.

The only real bargain I managed to find was a white SONOS One speaker for my bathroom. I had a $100 gift card that was gifted to me when I watched a friend's dog plus I had $65 in Amazon Credit Card points... so I only had to come up with $35 to buy it (except I didn't have it, so hello credit card). The Prime Day Special was the speaker bundled with a $50 gift card, which I could not pass up because SONOS rarely goes on sale, and this is as close as it gets.

Now all I need to complete my SONOS home experience is a SONOS BEAM for my bedroom and two SONOS One speakers (one for the guest room and another for the main-floor bathroom). Then there will be no corner of my home that can't be blanketed in sound... or that's not Alexa accessible. Gotta tell you... this SONOS stuff is addicting. It's just too amazing to have your television or music playing everywhere you want so you can move around the house for chores (or whatever) and not miss anything. If only they made some kind of a SONOS-style video device for my kitchen so I could keep up with television video as well as audio.

That way I won't have to miss a minute of Love It or List It when I am unloading the dishwasher or making dinner.

   

Facial Unrecognition

Posted on July 3rd, 2018

Dave!I currently have 146,427 images in my photo library. And while they are all fairly well organized by date and location, I tend to rely on the facial recognition in Adobe LightRoom if I'm trying to find a picture of a person. It does a pretty good job, though there's a lot of room for improvement. Fortunately there's a "training mode" where you can fine-tune the algorithm's picks.

Take for example pictures that LightRoom thinks are me that are actually me.

And... some pictures not so much of me.

XXX

So... pretty good job, actually.

And yet... Apparently I look like a skeleton doll... a painting of a grody old saint... a statue of some Thomas Jefferson looking guy... a drawing of a woman in curls... and a black blob.

Among other things.

No accidental comparison to Ryan Reynolds this time, however. Just a woman in curls.

Sometimes technology lifts you up.

Sometimes technology kicks you in the balls.

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3D

Posted on April 26th, 2016

Dave!Okay... my new Blu-Ray player can play 3D movies... and my TV can display 3D movies... but I've never bothered to watch a 3D movie because I don't like them much in the theater. They're dark. They're blurry. They're most-often not filmed in actual 3D so the separation sucks. All told, it's just a miserable experience. The sole exception being Avatar, which was something I could really plug my hair into because the 3D was so well done. And because it featured giant blue kitty people...

Giant Blue Kitty People!

Anyway... I bought the Blu-Ray 3D version of Avatar when it was on sale a while back, and I finally decided to dig out the 3D glasses this weekend and take a look. The 3D was absolutely spectacular... better even than the movie theater! Sure, it looked like a video game, but it was... different. So now I'm anxious to try more 3D films at home, but I don't want the 2D to 3D conversion crap that looks terrible. So I'm trying to track down films that were actually filmed in 3D with 3D cameras. And there just so happens to be a terrific website for that called Real 3D or Fake 3D!

Now it's just a matter of which movie to watch next. A lot of Pixar movies look promising. And I'm happy to see that Dredd was shot in actual 3D... so I guess that's a start.

And now for a quick look at my Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra-HD 4K HDR Blu-Ray Player...

Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra-HD 4K HDR Blu-Ray Player

I bought this player not for the 3D... there are plenty of cheaper options for that... I bought it for the HDR Ultra-HD picture to match up with my HDR-capable Ultra-HD television. To anybody familiar with this blog, the fact that I would buy into another shitty DRM-infested physical format may come as a surprise, but there's really no other way to get this kind of picture digitally, so I bit the bullet.

The UBD-K8500 player itself buys into the dopey "curve" aesthetic that has been plaguing Samsung as of late (I still don't understand the appeal of their curved TVs), which looks silly in your media center, but oh well. It's what the thing can do that I cared about, and there's actually two parts to that...

4K Picture.
With four times the resolution of 1080p, the new 4K format is a sight to behold... if you have a television that can display it! If you don't, this player is good for future-proofing and not much else. Otherwise? Well, it depends. First of all, you need a big TV. Second of all, you need to sit close enough to the television that you can actually appreciate the picture quality. Have too small a display or sit too far back, and you might as well stick with the much cheaper 1080p options out there. I have a 65-inch screen and sit approximately 9 feet away. This is the outer fringe of what's recommended to get any benefit out of the increased resolution but, when running a comparison between 1080p and 4K there is a definite difference you will notice. I sure did. It's not vastly huge since my television upscales the lower resolution quite nicely, but enough to make me want to purchase Movies That Matter in the Ultra-HD 4K format. To truly get the best bang for my buck, I move some furniture and sit 6 feet away from the screen. That's when the Ultra-HD really shines, and the extra money suddenly becomes worth the cost.

HDR.
If there were a "killer feature" to the UBD-K8500, it's the ability to send a High Dynamic Range picture to a compatible television. I have such a television, and can say with no hyperbole whatsoever that it's stunning. The expanded color gamut looks great when viewed alone... but it looks jaw-dropping stupendous when compared to a standard HD source. As I switched from 1080p to 4K HDR sources for The Martian and Kingsmen: The Secret Service it was like a hazy veil was being pulled from in front of my eyes, even though the image didn't look as bright. The color fidelity was just fantastic. Everything looks deep, rich, defined, and saturated... all without looking fake and bleeding all over the place. In a dark room on a high-quality display, I dare say that the image you get from the Samsung UBD-K8500 is better than any theater.

So... great picture quality. But what about the many, many, many pitfalls that plague Blu-Ray players of the past? Especially when it comes to speed? Blu-Ray players have historically been absurdly slow to respond... especially through the klutzy menu systems. Is the UBD-K8500 any different? Yes. And no. Yes, it's much faster than my previous 1st generation and 3rd generation Blu-Ray players, but it can still be infuriating when attempting to navigate through long menus or while attempting to jump around the disc. A lot of this undoubtedly has to do with the shitty DRM encoding (which punishes paying customers instead of the criminals seeking to steal content), but it's not like you can expect movie studios to give a shit.

The only real down-sides to my purchase were A] The price ($350!), B] The remote (once again Samsung shows that they have no clue what they're doing), and C] The lack of Ultra-HD HDR titles (no Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, alas). Other than that, I'd recommend the thing if you've got the television/set-up to take advantage of it.

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Saga

Posted on July 25th, 2015

Dave!Dave!Dave!I honestly thought that yesterday's struggle with my new travel portable hard drive's reversed USB 3 port would be the worst thing that happened before I leave for my work trip on Monday.

I was wrong.

So very, very wrong.

Last night before leaving work I compiled all my work file folders into a new folder hierarchy so it would be easier to copy what I need for work on the road. Instead of having to sync dozens of folders, I would now only need to sync one. Pretty sweet, right?

Yeah. Not so much.

Before leaving I set ChronoSync to copy my new "master folder" to my new up-side-down portable drive.

This morning I come back to work only to find that ChronoSync reported a total transfer time of 2 seconds with zero files copied.

What the-?!?

Turns out my new "master folder" was completely empty. All my files from the past two decades were nowhere to be found. Thinking that Mac OS X was just playing silly buggers with the "visibility" of my files, I ran Disk Warrior, which usually fixes things right up.

That didn't work so I ran Disk Warrior in "scavenger" mode.

That didn't work so I used the directory backup in TechTool Pro to see if I could recover my files.

That didn't work so I fired up Data Rescue 4 to see if that might work.

Nothing. Nothing. Nothing Nothing. Nothing worked. For reasons completely unknown, all my files had been completely wiped from the drive with no option for recovery. And for the life of me, I have no idea why. The free space on my drive is huge because the files are truly missing. No diagnostic will reveal any clue as to what's gone wrong. It's as if everything I've ever worked on never existed.

As if that weren't bad enough, I've been particularly lax in keeping up with my local backups. My most current drive copy is five months old.

I'd be contemplating sticking my head in the over right now if not for the fact that I have everything continuously backed up into the Cloud with a service called BackBlaze. For $189, they'll ship me a new hard drive filled with all my missing files. I started using BackBlaze when Apple's Time Machine backups kept getting corrupted, and thank heavens.

So... no harm no foul... I guess.

One thing's for sure, I need a better local backup strategy.

=sigh= Something new to worry about.

   

Transcend

Posted on July 24th, 2015

Dave!It's been reported that North Korea's dictator and fearless leader Kim Jong Un didn't like the design of his new Pyongyang International Airport so he had the architect executed.

It seems a bit extreme, to be certain, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't understand the sentiment.

Case in point...

When it comes to portable storage, the only brand I trust is Transcend's StorJet line of "Military Grade Shock Resistant" 2.5-inch hard drives. They're tough enough to travel the world with me, fairly speedy, and last forever. I am still using the very first drive I bought ages ago while other brands have long-since died.

So... great product. Well done, Transcend!

Since I'm hitting the road soon, I decided to pick up a new 1TB StorJet since all my current projects won't fit on the 750GB drive I'm using. I keep hoping that Transcend will add the option for a Thunderbolt or Lightning connector since you don't have to worry about which way you plug the cord into them, but all that's available is USB 3. I hate USB with a passion because I always seem to have the plugged turned the wrong way... but at least on the drive-side I know which way the plug goes in, which is half the battle.

At least it was half the battle...

Sadistic Transcend Engineers

   
On the left is my new drive. On the right is my old drive. Note that the USB plug is now upside-down from what it was.

Who is the sadistic fuck at Transcend that made THIS happen?

The years of conditioning I have as to which way the plug goes in the drive has just been sabotaged. And since it's so automatic that I don't even think about it, I have the plug backwards Every. Damn. Time. And it always takes a second before I realize what's wrong because my brain hasn't reached the point that I know to flip the plug.

I absolutely hate stupid crap like this.

They may make great portable drives, but they obviously don't give two shits about the small details that keep customers happy. It's like the assholes at LaCie who keep changing the power adapter plug on their Porsche drives every six months. After two years I ended up with seven drives and THREE different adapters to keep track of. It finally got so frustrating that I trashed all my LaCie drives and switched to Western Digital.

And now I'm seriously considering taking a look at other portable storage manufacturers so I can avoid the flip-flopping sadists at Transcend.

Now, I'm not saying that I want the engineer executed who made this dick move, but I will say that it's probably a good thing I'm not North America's dictator and fearless leader...

   

Bullet Sunday 382

Posted on May 25th, 2014

Dave!If you're in the USA, I hope you're in serviceable condition this three-day holiday weekend... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• SOLAR. FREAKIN'. ROADWAYS! This project is so mind-bogglingly awesome that I really want to believe it's going to happen. Until I remember that all our fucking politicians are in the pocket of fucking oil industry billionaires who will undoubtedly stop at nothing to make sure it doesn't happen. No... our government will finally decide to allow something like this when we're finally OUT of oil, and there's no more Big Oil teat for them to suckle... at which point we won't have the energy to do it, but whatever...

The project has reached their funding goal... but you can still contribute and they can still put your money to good use. Click here to donate in the next six days.

UPDATE: An interesting look at why this idea is fantasy...

   
• The R-Word. And so this happened...

        50 Senators Call On NFL To Change Redskins' Name.

Look, it doesn't matter what the intent is. It doesn't matter the context. It doesn't matter what legacy has been established. It doesn't matter how "respectful" you are. It doesn't matter what tradition and history mean to the team. "Redskins" is a historically hateful, dismissive, disrespectful, racist, and wholly offensive term for Native Americans. Period. It hasn't changed meaning. It hasn't been "taken back." It hasn't "moved past" its vile history. It is just as hurtful to those of Native American heritage today as it has always been. So why is this even a debate? Why has it taken THIS long? I mean, I KNOW this country's history of treatment for its Natives has been atrocious from the very beginning, but how can it ever be too late to start changing that? Despite our tragic history's best efforts, THESE PEOPLE EXIST! And there is no possible reason, context, intent, or excuse where "redskins" is an acceptable term to be used for anything. Then. Now. Forever. That there are people who can't even see how horrifically offensive this word is to an entire people and their culture only goes to show just how ugly it really is. And it needs to stop.

   
• Assholes. Hearing crazy shit from assholes like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh doesn't phase me any more. They say outrageous crap every day in order to shock people into paying attention to them, and I'm just done with it. But when it comes to everyday people? People who say outrageous crap for no other reason than being assholes towards their fellow human beings? That still freaks me the hell out...

Look, I've already written about the idea of people being forced to participate in activities that violate their religious convictions... but this is getting insane. Does nobody learn from history? Does any of this sound familiar? What's the next step? Do we just round up all the gays and the Jews so they don't accidentally offend somebody's religious sensibilities?? Seriously... what the fuck?!? I mean, THIS is the thinking of ignorant America now? I can't help but wonder how many surviving World War II vets are losing their ever-fucking minds right now. Exactly how far does this crap have to go before people wake up and just learn to live together?

   
• The Talk. Helpful video advice for parents...

I don't know what to say about this other than "genius." And holy shit.

   
• BIG! Well, since The Incredibles 2 has finally been announced, but is undoubtedly still years away, it seems like Marvel stepped up to the animation plate to fill the gap with little-known comic book property Big Hero 6...

Looks adorable. Baymax is the cutest thing to come to life since Schmoo.

   
And... unlike the rest of the known Universe (aka "The United States of America"), I have to work tomorrow, so until next week.

   

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