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Back from Hiatus

June 8th, 2007 No comments

With all the buzz in the air this week about ZFS, I knew I had to get blogging again. Unfortunately, starting up again after taking a few weeks off to get through finals is proving harder than I thought it would be. I needed something to get me jumpstarted again and this week’s coverage of ZFS has been the kick in the pants that I needed.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Attack of the Data Storage Robots

April 8th, 2007 3 comments

droboI was pretty intrigued by the short bit Scoble wrote about Drobo today after Gizmodo posted their story. Data Robotics has come up with an almost idiot-proof external storage array. To hit the highlights, it connects to a Mac or PC with USB 2.0 (480 Mbps theoretical maximum) and requires no special software – Drobo manages the storage all by itself – so it just looks like a big USB drive to your computer.

There are a few features that I really appreciate about their solution…

  • There are simple LED indicator lights that tell you if the drives are healthy and if the array is getting full.
  • SATA drives are added through the front of a very slick tool-less chassis. The drive chassis may be the coolest feature I’ve seen – I’d like to have that setup in my server case.
  • Drobo makes sure that your data is protected.
  • You can expand the size of the array at any time by adding additional drives (there are four slots) or swapping out smaller drivers for larger drives.
  • It supports both Mac and PC hosts
  • The external case has a cool design that I wouldn’t mind seeing on my desk.

It might not be ideal for everyone. It’s still an external drive enclosure so it requires a host computer and cannot be connected to ethernet directly as Network Attached Storage (NAS). I’m not sure how quiet it is either, which would be important for a HTPC media storage application. That said, it could be a great solution for the photographer or graphic artist that needs a large storage solution that can protect her data and still grow over time.

If you want to see what I’m talking about, I highly recommend the demonstration video on the Drobo site.

About the only thing that I don’t like about Drobo is the grammatical error in their tagline, “Drobo – whose minding the storage.”

For those looking for a NAS, this newish solution from Promise looks interesting. Of course, I like my personal budget server (based on Solaris), but it doesn’t have the convenience of these stand-alone solutions, even if it does cost a lot less and have more flexibility and capabilities.

Initial Solaris Transfer Speeds

April 7th, 2007 No comments

Using my Gigabit switch, I was able to transfer 1.25GB in 51 seconds by copying a file from my MacBook to my Solaris box. That’s 200Mbps if I convert the terms. I’ve heard of people getting close to 400Mbps on Gigabit networks, so I’m going to try and see what I can do to speed this up. In particular, I need to look into jumbo frames on both the MacBook and the Solaris box to see if there’s anything I can do to push up the speed.

I’m going to try and finish the install writeup this week. I took a lot of pix of the screen during install, but a lot of the images came out blurry (handheld P&S camera against LCD screen) I’ll try to clean up what’s usable and finish writing up the process I used.

Joost Beta

April 6th, 2007 No comments

Joost released beta invites to another wave of people yesterday and I finally got mine. I haven’t had a chance to look at it thoroughly, but my first impressions are pretty positive. Joost is an interesting combination of streaming servers and P2P filesharing to help speed up downloads. They also have made deals with Viacom to showcase a number of their properties including MTV and Comedy Channel programs.

What's Joost promotion video

The only real downside is that Joost still looks like internet video. In full-screen mode, the resolution isn’t quite high enough for my 1680 x 1050 display. It looks a little sharper in windowed mode where (I believe) it’s scaled to 1:1 resolution.

That said, my son and I watched the soccer channel for 15-20 minutes to watch a highlight reel of exciting goals from European matches (can Zidane strike the ball, or what?!). It was great to browse programs in Joost and pick programs similar to what you might see in an onscreen guide with your cable or satellite box. The playback bar lets you grab the pointer and move back and forth in the program quickly.

One thing I haven’t played with much yet are the Joost widgets that let you chat with other people watching the same program, rate the program, set favorites, share videos with friends, and so on. Apparently Joost is going to open this up to outside developers so that people can create their own widgets and share them with the world.

All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic about the future for Joost and internet TV in general. I think that the on demand, a la carte programming that a service like Joost makes possible is going to create a bunch of opportunities for consumers to get exactly what they want, when they want.

Exclusive Scoop on Google Vinyl

April 1st, 2007 1 comment

After my groundbreaking investigative reporting on the upcoming 2.0 release of Delicious Library, I’ve been inundated by more rumors than a ValleyWag tip line. I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter about a secret project at Google codenamed “Google LP” that frankly didn’t make sense until just this morning.Gmail Paper
Most of you are likely familiar by now with Gmail Paper, an amazing new offering from the wizards of Mountain View. You can get hardcopies of all your email sent to you at no charge, albeit with large red ads on the back of each page. All visual attachments are also sent to you, whether those be documents or image files (no word on whether or not the glossy photo paper also has red ads on the back or not). In the notes, you’ll see that the only attachments that are not supported are audio files like MP3 and WAV files. Here’s where the secret project comes in.

Apparently, while investigating alternative methods of high-density data storage and reliable backup medium, Google has patented a new process for permanently recording audio information onto a new type of disc made from a copolymerized version of vinyl chloride and vinyl acetate with small amounts of carbon black added. These improvements apparently build on the legendary work (patent # 4472295) of Fox and DiMarco, now rumored to be Google Fellows. These discs are somewhat resistant to dust (they can be wiped clean with distilled water when combined with other surfactants as additives to act as grease solvents, particularly for fingerprints) and can therefore be reliably used as removable media with a special “player” that can read the information imprinted on the surface of the vinyl disc.

This system is platform agnostic and will apparently work independently of any operating system on your computer. There is absolutely no need to be concerned about compatibility with your digital media player device. In fact, the audio output is said to be compatible with any equipment that has stereo phono input jacks.

This is where it gets exciting! Even though this project wasn’t ready for simultaneous release with Gmail Paper, this new system will allow Google to inscribe your MP3, AAC, WAV, etc. audio file attachments to these new PVC discs which Google will then mail to you for playback on the required player device. The player devices are available from a variety of manufacturers although they will be hard to find in most mainstream electronics stores for some time, although there are reports of the players being seen in high-end audio shops and, surprisingly enough, in pawn shops and thrift stores.

Here’s the final evidence. You’ll notice that in the images announcing Gmail Paper that the woman in the first picture (You click) is listening to audio content on her computer. She obviously wants to archive this material to physical media as well. BUT PICTURE #2 (We stack) WAS SUBSTITUTED AT THE LAST MINUTE when it was clear that the secret audio project wasn’t ready. Here is the original image that will go out again when the audio file support is ready.

Google Vinyl is coming, and it’s going to rock your world!

BREAKING UPDATE! – I’m trying to confirm if targeted audio ads are going to be placed on the disc between tracks or if red text ads are going to be printed on the surface of the disc. The latest rumors point to the possibility of both methods being used. There are also unsubstantiated rumors about less expensive ad placement for advertisers that don’t mind having their content show up when the discs are played backwards. The craziest rumors are that the highest priced placement will be audio ads *embedded* in your audio files at levels that are imperceptible to the conscious mind and therefore don’t affect the audio quality of your files. These are called subvinyl or perhaps sublaminate ads. Something like that – the audio was a little scratchy on the message I received.

Much Rejoicing Over New Version of Google Notifier for Mac

March 31st, 2007 1 comment

If you launch Google Notifier for Mac, you’ll be prompted to “upgrade” to the latest version. I’m thrilled to report that this latest version 1.9.97 works perfectly with Google Apps for Your Domain. All the links in the pull-downs will take you to the appropriate page in the hosted versions of Google Apps Mail or Calendar.

I tried to find release notes to find what else has changed in this release but have been unsuccessful in the last 2-1/2 minutes. In fact, when you get to the “What is Notifier?” page in Google Help Center, the link for information on the Mac version of Notifier goes nowhere (404 error).

I reset Safari to check for the bug where Mail notification would only work when you had logged in from Safari first. So far, no signs of that bug either.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the invaluable Gmail+Growl for Google Notifier which allows you to run all the Notifier notifications through the Growl notification notifier. 😉

Have I mentioned that I love Google Apps?

Categories: Apple, Technology Tags: , , , ,

Why Transcoding is Here to Stay

March 31st, 2007 No comments

Chris Lanier wrote the other day that he thinks that digital media players are missing an opportunity because they only support a limited set of file formats or codecs. I love Chris’ blog and read his posts regularly to keep up with what’s happening in the HTPC world. I’m a little surprised that I disagree with him, but in this case my opinion is very different.

The point that I think Mr. Lanier missed is that supporting a wider variety of codecs would push the price point of these media devices far past what most would be willing to pay for a consumer electronics box. Hardware decoding is relatively inexpensive because you can buy an IC from Broadcom (or someone else) that handles most of the video processing and decodes H.264, VC-1, MPEG-2, etc. You can hit a $300 price point with a device like this.

However, if you want the horsepower to decode other codecs (especially at HD resolutions) *IN SOFTWARE*, you are going to be looking at high-end PC specs. Can you imagine if the TiVo Series 3 was based on the Core 2 Duo and had a nVidia 7950GT in it? It would definitely have the horsepower to decode just about anything you could throw at it, but no one would buy it when they could buy a fully functional PC for *LESS* that didn’t have a monthly subscription fee.

Transcoding is definitely where it’s at. I want the ability to manage my content from my computer and then make that content available to all the devices I own. Here is where the “support all codecs” on the media player argument is backwards in my mind. I want the devices to be functional and cheap. I want my computer to be the workhorse that can figure out how to make my content available to those other devices and be aware of all their limitations. I want to manage my content centrally too and have all this transcoding and compression happen in the background so I don’t have to deal with it.

I want to buy a HD movie once and then automagically have that content transcoded and resized to play on my iPod, Xbox, AppleTV, laptop, etc. I also want to download flash movies from the internet, divx home movies, and on and on. My media manager should be intelligent enough to know the MPEG block constraints of the iPod’s decoder, that my Xbox Elite is set to use 1080p over HDMI, that my AppleTV can only do 720p at 24fps or 540p at 30fps and so on. I definitely do *NOT* want my iPod to be capable of playing back 20Mbps H.264 content at 1080p because I don’t want to spend $2000 for a video iPod. I am willing to spend big bucks on my main computer though.

I have high hopes that someone will figure this out and create a seamless PC, TV w/extender, mobile solution that will let me enjoy my (legally obtained) content anywhere, anytime, anyhow I want to.

Getting Started with Solaris 10 and ZFS

March 24th, 2007 11 comments

Solaris 10 LogoI’ve been itching to write more about Solaris 10 and ZFS now that I’ve got it working on my budget server. Unfortunately, I’ve been out of town this last week and haven’t had a chance to write much. Before I write up the full install and setup process, I thought I’d give you a little teaser.

You can get started at the Solaris home page. Incidentally, www.solaris.com will redirect you to the page on sun.com, in case you forget the URL. The first thing you’ll want to do is start downloading the x86 install disc image, because this will take a while. From the Get Solaris page you need to select the download option or sign up to have a software kit sent to you in the mail. If you have a DVD drive, I would recommend the compressed DVD image download if you’re running Windows. It comes in four parts, which are heavily compressed. Once you download all four parts, the decompression and disc creation routine will take quite a while. It took about an hour (if I remember right) just to make the image on my 2.4GHz P4 machine. Add burning time on top of that.

Once you have the install disc ready to go, the rest of the process is pretty easy. You can get an overview at “How to Quickly Install the Solaris 10 1/06 OS” and there’s a pretty good Solaris x86 FAQ available from sun.drydog.com as well.

False Alarm on Delicious Library 2

March 21st, 2007 No comments

Wil Shipley reveals in the midst of a stream of consciousness blog post that attendees at TED only received a coupon for the next version of Delicious Library. The actual app is still not finished (yet).

C’mon, Wil. We’re rooting for you!

Solaris 10 is Rockin!

March 16th, 2007 5 comments

I’m proud to announce that I’ve got Solaris 10 up and running pretty smoothly on my new AMD-based system. I had some annoying compatibility issues with the first system I tried, so I switched to the ASUS M2NPV-VM motherboard with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+ CPU. This board has much better support in Solaris 10 out of the box. The onboard GPU (nVidia GeForce 6150) is recognized immediately as is the onboard ethernet. So much nicer to work with…

Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard

There are some other things that I really like about this board. It’s got four USB ports and Firewire on the back. There are also headers for two more USB and one more firewire port on the motherboard. DVI out it also nice.  Check out the expansion options below…

Asus M2NPV-VM motherboard 2

Another thing that works really well for my project is that there are 2 IDE connectors and 4 SATA connectors. I plugged the boot drive and the DVD-ROM drive into the IDE port (as master/slave on one cable). Four SATA ports is the bare minimum for what I want to accomplish, but it will suffice for the next year or so. If I run out of room quicker than that, I’ll add a PCI board or something.

A couple other cool extras that come with this Asus board…

  • Firewire bracket (for the rear openings in a standard case)
  • HDTV video out bracket with component outputs (the 6150 is capable of 1080i)
  • extra IDE cables and a SATA cable

So next up is the physical build process and then Solaris installation. ZFS setup is so easy, it almost doesn’t deserve a post. I’ll see if I can do some rough benchmarks for fun though.