The Coronavirus

March 16, 2020 10:33pm
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We’re kind of living in a weird time, aren’t we?

Almost any place of gathering – schools, sporting events, even Disney World and other theme parks – are all closed.

Pretty much any office job is recommending their employees work from home.

And for some reason, there’s a major shortage on toilet paper … which ironically enough, I only learned about 30 minutes ago that we’re actually running low on at my house! 😯

I’m really trying to adopt the philosophy of focusing on the silver lining of this whole situation – that being a change of pace, albeit forced, from the daily life that is normal for me right now. Instead of a day filled with rushing to work only to leave to pick up kids a few hours later, then trying to juggle more work and supporting my family until bedtime, and then trying to support my writing business with whatever’s left, I’m challenging myself to take a different approach…

In being home all day, I want to truly take advantage of being home by spending lots of time with my family, breaks to help them with crafts and academics, meals together, etc…

I also want to try and get a tackle on organizing our house, as for the next several weeks apparently it’s going to become our lifeboat!

I want to reinforce my support for remote work by showing how physical location has no impact on the quality of my work. In fact, I expect it to improve as I won’t have to don headphones like whenever conversation surrounds me at the office!

I want to do what I can to help support small and local businesses because I know that some of them are going to take a real beating from this thing. Actually, just this morning I supported a local business by paying a guy to come fix my sprinkler system, so we’re off to the races already! 😀

If I can find the time, I’d love to squeeze in a little exercise … we’ll see…

And ultimately I just want to help improve myself by taking this bizarre opportunity to slow down and focus on the things that are really important for a change.

The whole legitimate excuse for avoiding people I guess is simply a bonus! 😉

FINALLY! An Actual Use for QR Codes!!!

February 17, 2020 11:04pm
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There’s no sense in holding back now – I’ve honestly always thought that QR codes were kind of dumb.

BUT…

I just stumbled across a pretty cool idea for them at home that I wanted to share!

You see, I just bought a new wifi access point, so I’m doing some spring cleaning on my home network and I ended up renaming the SSID that my guest network uses.

This is notable because I’m one of those weird people who believes in long, simple passwords instead of complicated strings that are hard to remember and thus I’ve grown accustomed to many an eye-roll when people ask what my wifi password is at home … often times resulting in guests just handing over their devices and asking me to type it in for them…

But no more!

So I found this blog post talking about an office posting a QR code that visitors could use to easily login to their guest wifi and I figured, why not try that at my house, too?!

I took it a step further by using this free website that let’s you generate your own QR code in about 30 seconds…

And the end result, after a couple of quick tests to watch the magic work, was this simple Word doc that I could print out and stick to the fridge for easy access anytime someone visits:

For the most part, I still think that these things are dumb – maybe because they just never got the penetration here in the States to justify companies pasting them all over everything instead of using their URLs – but if it saves me from being tasked with typing my 46-character wifi password into the phones of every friend and family member who comes to my house, then I will take one for the team and admit … this particular use case is kind of neat. 😉

Dream Journal : Sky High Living

December 27, 2019 2:02pm
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It’s not uncommon for me to have dreams where I’m suddenly back living in my hometown and I have to essentially figure out how to move out all over again. Sometimes my job has also vanished, however this time I was still working remotely for my current employer, so money apparently wasn’t a concern.

After cycling through the usual options – find an apartment of my own in my hometown, move downstate in Michigan, or again move to Florida – I found myself also branching out in a new direction by deciding that I’d always wanted to live in a high rise, so now was the time to do it…

It started with exploring a skyscraper in downtown Tampa that was surprisingly similar to the one that I worked in (Tampa City Center) when I actually moved to Florida. The “apartment” that I looked at was pretty ridiculous, spanning two floors with massive, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the rest of downtown. It even had a fireman’s pole to slide down from the loft to the main level!

Once we had gawked at the incredible views that said ridiculous apartment somehow afforded on a meager software engineer’s salary, we went to explore the rest of the building of which quite a bit was actually accessible as we were able to ride up and down in elevators and take staircases and sometimes even climbing ropes between the various floors.

It was when we came to a rather large and ornate ballroom, we found an artist painting a beautiful mosaic on the floor. I asked her if she was creating something new, to which the woman explained that she was merely doing touch-ups because the building had recently been sold.

I can’t remember if it was being sold by or being sold to, but I recall that one of the parties involved was none other than Donald Trump.

…and needless to say, it made me very mad!

After brooding for a while and hoping Trump was losing money on the deal, me and my friend found ourselves being chased by a group of security guards … presumably for wandering around in places where we weren’t exactly supposed to be. Luckily we managed to put more and more distance between us as we ducked in and out of secret passages and even more strange mechanisms to move us from one floor to another – the latest being a sort of platform on a track that winded between floors and around a bar that overlooked a restaurant on the floor below.

It was never clear whether I ended up renting that incredible apartment high in the sky, or if I ran into Mr. Impeachment himself. I still think it would be neat to live in a skyscraper, though family life … and the salary that it entails … makes that lifestyle pretty impractical anyways… 😉

Evolution of a Media Collection

November 23, 2019 3:00pm
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I wish I had kept better records of this over time – I’m basically just going by when I added new drives, but it’s still crazy to see how this collection has grown over only five years time…

Consider this – when I first got interested in collecting media back in my early twenties, I started with three 80 GB hard drives … one was fully dedicated to music, another animated TV (mostly The Simpsons, Futurama, and Duckman), and the third was live TV. These disks were filled first with a 56k modem that incessantly redialed all night long, and then later by a 1 Mbps cable modem.

Now here in 2019, I just finished building out a 106 TB NAS, with a 500 Mbps fiber line to fill it.

It kind of makes me wonder just how long the remaining 35 TB left on my new NAS are going to last me, especially when the data somewhat shows how I tend to go through a bit of a spike in downloads whenever I have new disk space available to me. 😉

To Migrate 70 Terabytes…

November 23, 2019 2:44pm
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It’s true.

The project that I started almost two months ago to migrate all of my home server data from rapidly aging desktop hardware to a rackmount NAS is finally completed.

What was previously around 60 TB spread across 9 hard drives of varying shapes, sizes, and ages has now been moved to a dozen 10-12 TB drives all born within the last year, including the addition of two parity drives for redundancy in a new-to-me server that will be dedicated to nothing but storing files, thus finally separating out Plex and the various apps that I use to download media to their own hardware where disk conflicts should officially be a thing of the past!

Of course, it didn’t take that full two months solely to move the data from one set of drives to the other … even though at times it certainly felt like it…

A good chunk of time was spent waiting for Unraid to clear and format new drives – a little over a day for 12 TB drives. 😯

I also had to limit when I could migrate data so as to not impact Plex, considering both that copying at full tilt ate up a lot of CPU on my old server AND I found that copying at full tilt into the new server would make it difficult to stream media from the affected drive at the same time.

I ended up counteracting the latter by adding a 1 TB SSD cache drive to Unraid, which unfortunately limited me to moving about 1 TB at a time because the mover process that moves data from the cache to the array (normally at night) is equally intensive.

That said, most of the speeds I got from the old server weren’t enough to matter anyways. For drives attached directly to the motherboard, I could average speeds of 60 MBps, however a good chunk of my media was living on external USB drives which meant that it was more likely for my transfers to crawl along at 30 MBps instead…

Comical when the SSD can do upwards of 90-100 MBps and even higher read speeds, but hey – I knew that speed wasn’t one of the selling points of going with Unraid, anyways.

Those two months also included a disk recovery … truth be told, I actually lost two disks that prompted me finally putting all of this into motion! One was a lost cause and I just made a list and re-downloaded everything over time, but the second I left alone until everything else was done and then was able to recover using this great free app that I found called testdisk. It turns out that basically the partition table had gotten corrupted somehow – a problem that actually already affected me once before that I previously had been able to repair, but this time once I realized that testdisk would allow me to copy the contents over to another disk that I now had to spare, I opted to just do that instead and about 12 hours later roughly 490 movies were sitting on a fresh disk and ready to migrate over to the new array!

So anyways, as of yesterday now everything is living on the new server and I’m basically ready to power down old faithful and prepare it for its afterlife. I think I decided that once I get the cables I’m waiting on to move the new NAS into my rack in thcloset, I’m going to bring that old server down to my office and disassemble it, give it a good cleaning and actually remove the dead drives that are still installed, and then I’m going to wipe the thing and turn it into a sandbox of sorts for a few random things that don’t really have a place on my other servers…

  • Plex media local backup – Until I can build out a proper backup NAS, I’m going to take a couple of leftover 8 TB drives and backup the most essential 16 TB of media in my collection for an additional backup on top of the 1 TB that I’m now backing up to the cloud.
  • Torrent seeding – I found this great docker for Transmission that incorporates OpenVPN for a seamless experience, which makes me feel a little more comfortable having it running full time to help seed some of the more difficult to find files that I had to hunt for after not being able to get them from usenet.
  • DVD ripping station – Right now the only computers left in this house that still have CD drives are one rackmount server and a very old laptop that I first trialed Plex on before moving it to my desktop hardware. I actually bought an internal bluray drive shortly after I started getting into Plex because I thought that I’d end up ripping all of my media instead of just downloading it, so it’s been buried underneath my desk for about four years now. Nonetheless, I want to install it in this version of the computer to have something a little more accessible for the random DVDs that I have to rip myself.

Not sure how much else will end up there simply because the CPU inside is pretty weak at this point, but I’m really trying to keep my main environments a little cleaner and not just install any old random thing that I come across, so this will be a good place for that because it won’t really matter if there are disruptions.

Looking forward to writing up a separate post outlining all of the reasons why I love Unraid now that I’ve been using it for a couple of months, and of course, I’m already working on expansion plans to move beyond the 106 TB limit that I currently have installed in my already very full, new NAS today! 😉

  1. I need to figure out why the ice from the ice maker in my freezer all melts together into an unusable blob in the bucket so quickly.
  2. I want someone to fix the sprinkler pipe in my garden that I broke with a shovel while grumbling about our HOA … not because I’m not capable of doing it myself, but because every time I think about it I just get angry all over again!
  3. I’d like to go an entire week without stepping on a single toy in my house.
  4. I’d love to not have to drive 60 miles round trip to get rid of my styrofoam recycling.
  5. I wish the lights in my garage that went out a month and a half ago would magically start working again.
  6. It would be a blessing to have someone properly trim the hideous oak tree in my front yard.
  7. I really want to have all of our Christmas lights up by December 1st this year.
  8. I’d like to solve the problem of us constantly losing our remote controls once and for all.
  9. Both of our cars could use a thorough cleaning.
  10. I’m really curious to know how much electricity my latest server upgrades are going to cost me.

Thanksgiving Dinner
We’ve never actually done a traditional Thanksgiving dinner all by ourselves. Typically we’ll get a pre-cooked turkey breast from HoneyBaked Ham, and if we’re feeling really lazy, sometimes we’ve even gotten the sides and dessert pre-made, too, so “dinner prep” is more of a reheating exercise than anything else.

So this year we’re doing things a little different.

We actually don’t have any family coming over, so it’ll just be the five of us, but we’re going to try our hands at actually cooking a turkey, making the sides in something other than a microwave, and hopefully getting a bit of family time out of the whole ordeal, too. We still need to plan a menu and go grocery shopping, but I’m surprisingly looking forward to the challenge!

Christmas Shopping
The last year or so, including Christmas 2018, was kind of tight, so we’ve had to cut back in areas a lot more than we would like, however at least for the time being things are turning around … mostly because my wife has been picking up loads of extra shifts … and so after getting a bunch of bills finally caught up, I’m looking forward to splurging a bit and have already caught myself digital window shopping for the various folks on our list.

Spoiler Alert – It’s all about the clam candy canes!

Disk Space!!!
Even though it’s also been stressful and there’s been a lot to learn, I’ve really been enjoying building out my new NAS over the past couple of months – particularly this past weekend when I dropped in five brand new 12 TB drives that I picked up on sale at Best Buy to max the beast out at a whopping 106 TB of usable storage!

Granted, it’s a little concerning that this thing is already almost 70% full, and unfortunately every drive bay is filled in the current enclosure, but it should at least tide me over for a few months until I figure out where to go from here…

So what did you do this weekend?

November 17, 2019 11:12pm
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I myself was surprisingly productive!

  • Brought in server rack from the garage and started reorganizing servers in closet.
  • Spun up a new VM and installed Home Assistant to start tinkering with the next level of home automation.
  • Started working on a new script to keep up with downloading YouTube videos into Plex.
  • Cleared off two shelves of expired foods in the pantry.
  • Put away Halloween.
  • Made somewhat of a dent in cleaning the living room and playroom.
  • Added new hard drives to NAS and expanded parity volumes from 10 TB to 12 TB. (I love Unraid!)
  • Gave the dog a bath … after the kids covered her in applesauce.
  • Cleaned out bedroom closet to make way for said ginormous server rack.
  • Reorganized recycling in garage … because it’s a giant pet peeve of mine that they can’t just all go to the same place.

Pay the Writer

September 27, 2019 11:03am
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I’ve really been enjoying this thread by Heidi Moore over on Twitter about writers getting exploited through low rates…

This morning it got me thinking about the days long ago when I ran Just Laugh because some smaller publications are starting to give her pushback for being called out because “they don’t have the budget to afford to pay writers any more.”

And I sort of get that to a point, however that point lies in a time almost 20 years ago when the publishing landscape was much different … and it’s for this same reason why when I tried to relaunch the site a few years ago, I just didn’t have the guts to ask people to write for free anymore…

When I first created Just Laugh back in 1999, I had just graduated from high school and was still living in my Mom’s basement. I worked the same job I had in school that paid me about $9/hour, and I built Just Laugh in my spare time to help distract myself from not having gone off to college right away like the rest of my friends had.

The Internet was still pretty new then, so Adsense and Amazon affiliates and all of these revenue options for small publishers just didn’t exist yet. I don’t know if we all just happened to be in the right mindset at the right time, but when I emailed writers asking to syndicate their work or publish something new for them, it worked for everyone at the time.

In fact, the site always had a slot for a 468×60 banner ad in the header, but it was perpetually filled by either house ads for our various projects or ads for random sites that I liked.

I never made a dime from it, and by the time advertising had become a thing, the site was basically defunct and the only place I ran anything was in our Joke Database which still never made enough to cover the $14.95 a month I spent on hosting.

I actually remember being surprised when I looked at the account years later and found that it had accumulated a couple hundred bucks in it, quite literally by making $1-2 a month for years and years on end! 😯

Anyways, I wanted to share this because I feel like today online publishing is very different.

Today it’s so much easier to build a website, and a following of your own through social media, and even earn financial support whether it’s through ads or merch or directly from fans via sites like Patreon.

Most creators don’t need a publisher anymore, and I can’t tell you the number of times during that attempted relaunch when I would come across writers and artists who I would’ve loved to work with, only to think two things…

  1. But I can’t afford to pay them.
  2. And their following is bigger than mine to the point that they don’t need me anyways!

It’s been a really sore spot as I’ve learned more about publishing in general over these years how lopsided the equation actually is for most creators, and how messed up it is for someone to take the lion’s share of your revenue and also not do as much for your own work as you could just do yourself.

You hear about it all of the time from people on the NYT bestsellers list, and yet people still scramble to make it there despite knowing that getting actual support from a big publisher like JK Rowling or John Green might is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

So it was interesting to read about several smaller publications fighting in support of their lower wages because they were doing the best that they could, and writers were grateful for their voice. 

One actually noted in its “expense report” that their expenses had gone up “because they had to pay for health insurance for their staff” … which is kind of the point that the whole thread is trying to make because a writer shouldn’t have to work for pennies so that their editor can have health insurance!!!

The thing is, I get passion projects. I really do.

Just Laugh was always very much a passion project for me, and I sincerely hope that the other people who helped contribute to what we did looked at it in the same way.

In hindsight, I actually had one squabble with a writer who thought that I was just using his work to sell merch, and despite having only sold I think one single mousepad the entire time, now as an almost-40 writer I can see a little better where he was coming from, and I would’ve been pissed thinking some cocky, 20-something was profiting off of my work and not paying me for it, too!

It’s for that reason why I think that it would be really hard to run a publication like that today because just like any other field, if you can’t afford to pay your writers a decent wage, you don’t deserve to take one yourself, either. Maybe if everyone is onboard with your mission, or it’s a close-knit group chasing a dream, but if you’ve got a budget of any sorts, there’s really no excuse to not be fairly compensating the folks who are literally putting the words on the page for your cause.

To put it another way…

Rediscovering Music, Digitally

September 24, 2019 2:48pm
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Recently I decided to revisit the seemingly gargantuan task of reorganizing my digital music collection.

It’s something that I’ve been putting off even longer than updating my backup plan because I honestly don’t listen to music much except for maybe when I’m in the car, even though it seems silly to only have access to about 20 albums on my phone when I’ve got upwards of 100 GB of music sitting on the server at home.

But really, therein lies the problem – I’ve found that while Plex has been my loving savior for roughly 99.5% of my digital media woes, the one area where it seems to fall short is in organizing my music because of how it identifies songs … or at least tries to, anyways.

It turns out that despite going through the steps many, many moons ago to convert all of my mountains of CDs that I acquired through the likes of BMG and Columbia House to MP3s, apparently the tags that got embedded in the files are inconsistent as all crap. It never really bothered me because I had the files themselves organized by genre, artist, and album, and I’d play everything with Windows Media Player (or WinAmp if we really want to whip the llama’s ass…).

#geeknostalgia

Anyways, it turns out that when you tell Plex to use a file’s tags, it takes that directive very seriously, even when to my regular, human eyes some of them are absolute garbage! Completely ignoring directory structure, it would mix tracks among different albums and sometimes even classify music under several different artists if their names were spelled incorrectly across the various tracks!

It sucks, which is why I’ve put the project off for so long, however lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the data I hoard and how it makes all of the sense in the world to store it in a format that’s actually useful for its consumption, so it was time to finally start addressing the problem…

…which in my case means importing one or two artists at a time and refreshing my Plex library, then reviewing the results and making any manual changes to group songs together correctly, list multi-disk sets correctly, and so forth.

After several hours of work, Plex tells me that so far I’ve added a whopping 19 artists to my library, so I’ve clearly got a long ways to go, but the plus side of all of this is that I’ve been stumbling back across all of these great songs that I used to love at various times over the years.

So I thought it might be fun to share a few here – most are from my college days, though Led Zeppelin I listened to pretty much religiously back in high school! It’s amazing how beautiful some of those guitar tracks are that I’ve completely forgotten about…

Maybe as I come across others, I’ll write a little something about select favorites and what they mean to me … seeing as that was actually the original intention of this blog post when I first started writing. 😉

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