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Posts from the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Home Storage & Network Topology (2013)

In 2011, I wrote a fairly popular blog post outlining my home solution for storage & backup:

Since it has been almost two years, I thought I’d update the information with some improvements.

Updated Network Topology

In 2012, I had a chance to update our network infrastructure, and as a result we have a slightly different home network topology than the one I diagrammed in 2011.  The following image shows the current, high level structure (note: I haven’t documented all devices or switches on the network)

home_storage_topology_20132013 Home Network Topology

Enhancement: Comcast 105Mbps Service

In March 2013, Comcast announced doubling it’s internet connectivity speeds in the San Francisco Bay Area for no additional cost.  This proved to be enough of an improvement to get me to face the reality that AT&T Uverse was never, ever going to get any faster than 24Mbps.

As a result, my order is in to convert to Comcast.  I’ll post here if the experience is anything but what’s expected – a massive increase in download speeds.  With multiple people in our household now hitting Netflix streaming up to four at once, I think the upgrade is perfectly timed.

Enhancement: WD 6TB Thunderbolt Duo for iTunes

Last month, tragedy struck.  The 4TB USB 3.0 hard drive I had been using for the main iTunes library crashed.  Fortunately, thanks to the backup solution in place, all files were recovered.

The only problem was recovery time.  It was slow.  It turns out, restoring about 3.5 TB from the Synology box to a USB hard drive took over 38 hours.  Now, granted, Time Machine isn’t the fastest recovery software, but it’s what I’ve been using reliably.

At 3.5TB, I realized I was going to max out the Seagate 4TB drives soon anyway.  After some research, I decided to get the 6TB Western Digital Thunderbolt Duo.  With two 3TB drives striped with RAID 0, combined with the 10Gbps Thunderbolt bus, I was hoping for significant speed improvements.

Restoring 3.5TB via Time Machine from my Synology box to the Thunderbolt Duo took less than 16 hours, a huge improvement over the previous experience with the Seagate USB drive.  Most of this benefit is likely due to Thunderbolt bus (I gave the drive a dedicated port on the iMac.)  Regardless, I’m thrilled to have a solution that will continue to scale through the year until larger single disk drives are available. (As a caveat, I’m now at double the risk of failure on the main iTunes drive, since if either drive fails, the whole drive will fail.)

Last Note: Stagnation in Hard Drives

It’s worth noting that it has been over 18 months since we’ve seen a larger single 3.5″ hard drive size.  We’ve been promised 6TB drives later this year, with headroom to 60TB for a 3.5″ drive on the upcoming technology, but it’s clear that single disk storage isn’t really keeping up with the increasingly large file sizes of HD video storage.  Imagine the strain when files go to 3D and Ultra HD formats.

For those of you who are interested in these type of technical details, I hope you find the above useful.

Home Media / AV Configuration (2013)

From time to time, friends and family will ask me how I configure the devices in my house for media.  Since I just got this question again last week, I thought I’d take a moment to document it here.  In the past, I’ve documented my storage & backup solution, my time machine setup, as well the configuration of my old wireless network.

Basic Assumptions

Since there are an incredible number of technology and service choices that can affect a home media solution, it’s best I put some of the basic decisions that my household currently has made around media technology:

    Comcast HD is our HD television service

  • iTunes HD is our standard movie purchase format
  • Netflix is used for movie rental
  • Tivo is our DVR of choice

Of all of these choices, the ones that are most material are the choice of Comcast HD / Tivo, as Comcast is the best HD service for modern Tivo DVRs, and the standardization on iTunes HD, not Blu-Ray, for HD movie purchases.

Office Configuration

Our home media solution is grounded in the home office, but really has become fairly distributed between the cloud and local devices. In fact, at this point, the home office solution is really used more for backup and legacy purposes.

Home Office Media

The key elements of the configuration are as follows:

  • The iMac is really the “source of truth” for the media library in the house
  • The media library is large (each HD movie is about 4GB), so it sits on its own 4TB USB HD
  • The iMac backups up to the Synology box via Time Machine
  • Wireless devices (laptops, iPads, iPhones) connect via 802.11N
  • The Gigabit Ethernet switch is connected to the central home network

Living Room Configuration

The consumption solution in any room with a television is largely the same.  Here is a diagram of it’s fundamental components:

Living Room Media

The key elements of the configuration are as follows:

  • The Gigabit Ethernet switch connects all the devices to the central home network
  • The AppleTV is used to watch purchased HD movies from iTunes, Netflix for streaming, and access the home media library on the iMac
  • The Tivo is used to watch live / recorded television (from Comcast)
  • The Blu-Ray is there theoretically if we wanted to watch a Blu Ray, which almost never happens

A Few Caveats

This solution currently has the notable sub-optimal elements:

    • I didn’t include an A/V receiver or surround sound solution in the above description, because that actually varies room to room.  In some rooms we have an AV receiver, in others we utilize a surround sound bar or just use TV audio.

Input switching.  We almost never use the Blu-Ray, but this solution does require switching inputs between AppleTV & Tivo, which is a bit annoying since the Tivo remote can’t control the AppleTV and vice-versa.

While I’m sure this solution will not impress any cinephile out there, hopefully it will be useful to a few of you thinking through how to setup or reconfigure your home media solution.

I’ll try to do a follow up post with what I’m hoping to see in 2013 to make this even better.

How to Make Great Green Beer for St. Patrick’s Day

You learn a lot of things at a hypergrowth startup, mostly by doing.  For some reason, I love St. Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day wasnt always a big event at LinkedIn, at least until we figured out how to make green beer.

It may sound trivial, but making a great green beer is surprisingly delightful.  Throw in a leprechaun hat, some Irish whiskey, and a warm afternoon, and you’ve got yourself a party.

Step 1: The Beer

We tried quite a few varieties, but what you are really looking for is a bright, vibrant yellow color to start with.   Most people were happiest with Corona, although Beck’s was also popular.  Wheat beers tend to be too cloudy, and anything darker tends to look swampy.

(Listen, I know Corona doesn’t scream Irish, but we’re going for effect here.)

Step 2: Supplies

Before you can have your event, you need to assemble the following:

  • Case(s) of beer.  Theoretically could get a keg, but our parties were never that big.
  • Bottle openers.
  • Clear, 16 ounce plastic cups.
  • Green food coloring, liquid.

Step 3: The Process

The workflow is simple, but this detail is important.

  1. Put two (not one, not three) drops of food coloring in the bottom of a cup
  2. Open the beer
  3. Pour liberally, to get good mixing and a bit of a head

That’s it.  The magic is that you get almost perfect color distribution pouring the beyou over the food coloring.  Adding the food coloring afterward, eve with stirring, is a giant fail.

The Results

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

How to Extract Short Films from iTunes Extras

This is a quick tip, but somewhat delightful, so I’m sharing it here on this blog.  Credit to DJ Patil for goading me to write this up.

iTunes Extras

Recently, Apple debuted a new feature at the iTunes Store.  When you buy certain movies, typically the more expensive HD versions, you also get the “iTunes Extras”.  The iTunes Extras are basically “everything else” that comes packaged on Blu-Ray and DVD discs: deleted scenes, trailers, exposés on the making of the film, and for certain films (like Pixar movies), short films.

Free the Short Films!

There is a small problem with this system, however.  When you sync your iPod, iPhone or iPad with the library, you don’t get the iTunes Extras.  When you connect with the AppleTV, you don’t see the iTunes Extras.

More importantly, you don’t really want to carry around gigabytes of the extras.  I just don’t need to see “Making Of” clips that often.

Fortunately, it turns out to be an easy problem to solve.

Open the Package

Cracking open the iTunes Extras turns out to be trivial.  In fact, it’s not even cracking – it’s like finding the little red string on a wheel of cheese that makes it trivial to remove the wax covering.  Here are the steps:

  1. Go to the iTunes Extras file in iTunes, and “right click” or “control-click” the file.
  2. Select “Show in Finder” from the menu
  3. You will now see the folder for the movie in your iTunes Library.  There will be a file selected with an “ITE” extension.
  4. “Right click” or “control click” the file.
  5. Select “Show Package Contents” from the menu
  6. You will see a folder inside called “videos”.  In that folder, you will see all the “M4V” files that are the video extras, including the short films
  7. Just copy these files to your desktop.  I use the “Option Drag”, where I hold the option key down, and drag the file to my desktop.  This makes a copy of it on the desktop.
  8. Add the movie to your iTunes, just like any other video.  You’ll have to add the artwork and fix the title, but then you have your short film, separate and synchable, just like any other movie.

You see, the Mac OS Finder has a trick that it inherited from NeXTStep: you can take any folder, mark it a “package”, and the Finder displays it as if it were a single file.  In fact, all the applications on the Mac are delivered this way.  *.app files are really packages (directories) of content, wrapped so that you can click on them as if they are a single file.

The iTunes Extra file is a just a package, and the video files are inside.  More importantly, they are all just “M4V” files, which are MPEG 4 video files that are copy protected with the iTunes DRM.  So they largely work like the main video that you bought off iTunes.

It’s a little extra work to get the correct title, year and cover art on the file, but a quick cut & paste from Google can solve that.

Hope this delights at least one other person out there.  It certainly delighted me this weekend as I was able to free the “Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation” short film from the new distribution of Cars 2 in HD on iTunes.

Build a Resilient Modern Home Storage & Backup Solution

I’ll admit it, but my home network tends to push the edges of what consumer technology wants to support.  Two months ago, I had one of those terrible technology events that forces you to rethink your entire network: my Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ failed in a disasterous way, causing me to lose my entire iTunes Library.

As a result, I embarked on a process to rethink my storage and backup solutions for my household, which in this modern age of iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs, and countless media devices has become fairly complex.  Since the solution that I settled on required quite a bit of research, experimenting and simplification, I’m hoping some readers will find it interesting.

Call it: “Adam’s Home Storage Solution, Fall 2011 Edition”.

Overview: Network Design Diagram

You can see above the relevant elements of my home network topology.  It’s anchored to the internet via AT&T UVerse, which provides a 24Mbps down, 5Mbps up service over VDSL.  The router for my home network is plugged into an 8-port Gigabit switch, which is effectively the backbone for the entire house.  As part of the process of revisiting my network, I discovered that historically I had used a mish-mash of old Ethernet cables, some Cat 5, some Cat 5e, and it was affecting some connections.  A quick trip to Fry’s ensured that, for just a few dollars, I had Cat 6 cables for all Gigabit devices.  (This turned out to be important, particularly for connections to my iMac, wireless base station, and NAS box).

Basic Storage Topology

While my network supports a wide variety of clients, the backbone of my solutions is very Apple-centric.  As a result, my solution is optimized for the following decisions:

  • My media store is based on iTunes
  • My primary server is an iMac running Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
  • My on premise backup solution is Time Machine

I was able to simplify my storage needs for the network as follows:

  • The iMac uses the built-in 256 GB Solid State drive for the system & applications
  • The iMac uses the built-in 2 TB standard drive for local storage of most media (downloads, documents, pictures)
  • The iMac uses a 4 TB Seagate GoFlex External USB 3.0 drive for the iTunes library
  • The iMac and all other Macs in the house use Time Machine to backup to the Synology DS1511+, which has 8.3 TB usable space.

The Synology DS1511+ has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, which allows for particularly good performance when multiple machines are trying to read / write to it at the same time.  Configuring the box to support Time Machine for multiple clients is not obvious, but I’ll write up a separate blog post on that issue.

Overall, the performance of this solution is excellent.  iTunes performance from the Seagate is excellent, both for the primary machine as well as for remote devices utilizing Home Sharing to access media (like the AppleTVs).  We are able to run video off this solution to all 3 AppleTV devices simultaneously with no issues.  Copying a 250MB file to the Synology box takes approximately 2 seconds, and it offers no measurable delay in terms of Time Machine incremental backups, viewing, and restoration.  The entire initial backup of 4.05 TB via Time Machine to the Synology box took approximately 26 hours.

Backup Solutions

Let’s not forget that the impetus for this entire redesign was the tragic and unnecessary demise of the Netgear ReadyNAS NV+, causing massive data loss.  Without belaboring the point, I hope that no one who reads this will ever make the mistake of buying a Netgear ReadyNAS.

That being said, it did lead me to significantly reconsider a multi-tier solution for document protection.

I would have loved to go purely with a cloud-based solution, but the performance is just not there yet for multi-terabyte systems.  Not only does it take an inordinate amount of time to upload terabytes to the cloud, but in the case of data loss, recovering the data would be equally slow.  Uploading 400+ GB to the cloud took me approximately 40 days… 4 TB would have taken over a year!

As a result, I factored my content into what I absolutely could not live without.  I settled on my 450 GB of photos and home movies that would be devastating if lost.  For $90, I subscribed to Crashplan Pro, which offers unlimited storage and came highly recommended by everyone.

As a result, for this crucial data, I have 3 levels of protection:

  • Primary storage
  • Secondary backup via Time Machine to Synology RAID can tolerate up to 2 disk failures simultaneously
  • Tertiary off site backup to CrashPlan

For the rest of my data, I have a fairly robust solution, but I’m considering storing 4 TB drive offsite somewhere periodically to add that “tertiary” level of security / safety.

Final Thoughts

The above solution may seem like overkill to some.  OK, probably to most.  However, you can simplify the solution above based on your needs.  For example, if you have only 200 GB of data to protect, maybe CrashPlan is the right “set and forget” solution for your network.  Maybe the 4 TB Seagate drive is sufficient for your Time Machine needs.

For those of you interested in the Synology box, I plan to write up a follow-on post on how to configure the Synology DS1511+ for Time Machine on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

The Big Problem with Transformers 3

I’m writing this blog post as a favor to Alex Gyr, who apparently likes it when I rant about movies.  And after all the fun commentary on my post on the Problems with the Star Trek Movie Reboot, it has been too long since I flamed a hot summer movie.

The Transformers Brand Promise

Look, I’m not going to complain about the acting, the actors, the plot, the length or the production value.  Truth be told, I don’t expect a lot from a big budget remake of a popular 1980s cartoon.  I’m in the core demographic and I’m super forgiving.

However, I do expect just two things from the Transformers.  Just two.  And they didn’t give it to me.

I want to see robots, and I want to see those robots transform

Seriously.  It’s not more complicated than that

Enough with the Humans

OK, so given the premise, let’s look at what we actually got from the movie.

First, at least one full hour of the movie, if not more, is dedicated to the drama and suspense around the humans in the story.  Will they understand?  Will they make it?  Can they fix it?  Can they save the day?

Please.  There are hundreds of movies I can go to this year to see plots about humans.  Believe me, most of them will be better.

Enough with the humans.  When I go to a Transformers movie, I want to see robots.

What Happened To Transform?

That’s not the worst of it.  For the half of the movie that does include robots, there is the second problem. They don’t transform!

I know, it sounds ludicrous, but let me say it again.

Part of the plot includes about 200 deceptigons descending onto Earth for global domination.  They don’t transform.  They just fight as robots.

Why even call them Transformers?  They are supposed to be robots in disguise, not just robots.  Let’s just call the movie: “Humans and Robots 3: All the Same, All the Time”.

Message to Paramount

Every brand has a reason to exist, and Transformers definitely has a reason to exist.  It exists to provide people with a colorful futuristic world where there are robots that transform.

If you make a Transformers 4 (and let’s be clear, I hope you do) please make sure if possible to make the movie about robots that transform.  You will get the full ticket price (3D IMAX) from me.

Adam Nash is Metro Man

I got this sent to me in email today.  It seems to have become a running joke among a few of my fellow LinkedIn employees.

Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

  1. Do I need to change my official superhero for 500 Startups? (currently: Optimus Prime)
  2. Am I missing something funny about this comparison?  This seems way too flattering…

I wills say one thing – I’m going to have to hit the gym a bit more to fit into that costume.

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