So close! Then oops…

February 6, 2015 3:44pm
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I thought I’d take a quick break right now to do what should’ve been a simple maintenance on my new media server. My latest hard drive added was still setup as an external USB drive, so now that I’ve got the cables that I needed I figured that I’d simply power everything down, move the drive into the case, and that’d be that!

Oops.

When I booted back up, instead of the OS seeing a 4 TB disk that’s about half full, somehow it managed to see a 500 GB partition that it thought was my old drive and a 3.5 TB partition that was completely foreign to it. 😛

A quick Googling suggested that the USB adapter that I have probably has something in the controller that serves as a boot manager, so whereas I thought I was being all smart and formatted it to ext4 a week ago in preparation for today’s task, in effect using the USB adapter to do so kind of hosed up that little plan something fierce!

So here we are now…

usb_oops

(USB adapter plugged in while hard drive is still mounted inside case!)

Thankfully I’ve still got just barely enough free space between my other three drives to split up all of the data that’s on the “external” one, so now I get to wait another umpteen hours to copy everything over to those drives, only to as soon as it’s done swap out the cables one more time, reformat, and copy everything back again!!!

screenshot

😐

A Different Kind of Cloud

January 21, 2015 1:45am
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I just saw this commercial and now I’m wondering – did we change the definition of what The Cloud really is, or have I just not known what it was all along???

The product is basically an external hard drive that’s accessible over the Internet – neat idea for the everyday user, but is anything connected to the Internet considered part of “The Cloud” nowadays?

I always pictured cloud storage to be online, distributed storage … redundant, in big data centers … in general, more reliable than just a consumer hard drive sitting underneath my desk. Backing up my family photos and important documents to the cloud means that if I have a fire, or a power surge, or somebody breaks in and steals my computer, all of those files are still safe.

Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox – those are cloud services.

Maybe if it did something neat like auto-syncing to a real data center for free online backups – that would be the cloud, but this … this is just a network-shared hard drive where the Internet happens to be your network. 😛

Playing with Plex

January 3, 2015 6:48pm
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plex

Since I left off on the subject back around Thanksgiving, I’ve actually made a lot of progress in my little Plex project…

I still have my little test server running on an old laptop that’s hardwired to the network.

The server is running CentOS, Plex … and that’s about it. Eventually it’ll also have a CrashPlan install on it, but that tested out fine – no sense in running it now until I’ve got more disk space available for it.

Media-wise I have about 1 TB worth of shows and movies ripped from DVDs and whatnot, split between the laptop’s hard drive and a bigger drive in my old desktop PC that I was able to share out and mount to Linux that Plex seems to read just great.

Total count is about 130 movies and a couple dozen TV shows that I’ve collected to various regards. Considering the two 4 TB drives that I have sitting waiting to be used, I’m expecting to just about fill up 4 TB (with the other for backup) by the time I’m done ripping our entire DVD and Blu-Ray collections.

Thankfully, disks are cheap and I think it’ll take a lot longer to fill the next 4 TB! 😉

The Positives:

  • So far, Plex has been pretty awesome. I absolutely love the interface and how it pulls pretty metadata for everything that it can identify, and at first I thought that naming stuff so that it could ID it would be a pain in the ass, but it really isn’t. The organization with poster and background art is wonderful!
  • Once my brother-in-law was able to help me sort out firewall permissions on the server, we got it streaming to any device on the local network in the house and I’ve been able to watch all sorts of stuff using the Samsung app on my new TV with no additional setup hardware needed.
  • Picture quality looks as good as the original DVDs did, which makes me think I made the right choice by just doing straight MKV dumps rather than re-encoding everything, despite the much larger file sizes.
  • I’m very surprised that both the laptop and the wifi have been able to handle full-size streaming pretty well. I’ve only had one or two hiccups where the video stopped or the audio temporarily cut out, although it’s hard to tell whether Plex is even to blame because I think at least once the remote for the TV had fallen into the couch and itself is very sensitive!
  • Did a very limited test of streaming to multiple devices when we were sorting out the firewall issue and that seemed to be ok, too, so I have little doubt that it’ll run just fine when I move it over to my old quad-core desktop hardware when I’m finally ready to do so…

The Challenges:

  • Finding time!!! Both to move the hardware over as well as just to finish ripping another 200-ish DVDs – right now everything hinges on first moving my old files over to my new laptop, which I’ve been doing slowly, but I’m also hesitant to completely pull the plug until I’m 110% sure that I don’t need anything anymore on Windows.
  • It’s not a big deal, but I still need to sort out port forwarding in my router so that Plex is available outside of my home network. It doesn’t really matter now, but I can see it being a neat bonus when we travel or go on vacation to be able to access all of our movies remotely. Plus I think I’m going to load all of my music as well, which admittedly would get used more remotely than the movies and TV.
  • Speaking of music, that’s going to be a pain in the ass simply because a huge number of my MP3s aren’t tagged properly and I don’t really know how to tackle the issue yet. iTunes hates it, too, and there have been all sorts that I’ve only ever been able to play on my desktop because if they’re not tagged right, iTunes doesn’t load them right and you can’t move them to a mobile device. It’ll be another huge project, so maybe when I’m nearing the end of DVD ripping…
  • One other random thing I’m noticing is that aspect ratio can be a pain for older movies and TV shows, which let’s be honest, a bunch of my collection consists of! Plex seems to preserve 4:3 if that’s what the original video is, although I did find just last night how to make the TV stretch it to 16:9 … I’d just like it to be automatic rather than having to make the tweak each time because so many older TV shows especially weren’t encoded in widescreen.

If anything, I still think that my biggest complain/concern is that I don’t know how I’m going to handle adding new content to the server, meaning that as far as I can tell there’s no good way that I can just buy a movie or TV show from iTunes or Amazon and automatically import that into my Plex library. I’ve already tried doing it manually with iTunes, but the movie has DRM on it … not sure if Amazon is any better.

I have a bad feeling that my best option may still be to buy the physical discs and rip them, which just seems stupid when ultimately what I want is a digital file … plus I don’t know what I’ll even do with the discs afterwards when I’m thinking that just like my old CD collection, my DVDs are going to end up in a tote out in the garage once I’ve ripped and don’t have a need for them anymore. 🙁

Good progress, though! Looking forward to sharing some final numbers once everything is done and cleaned up … I’ve wanted to do this for a long time and the apps just didn’t exist to do what I wanted yet, so progress is good. :mrgreen:

Switching to Mac – First Thoughts…

December 6, 2014 12:55am
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So it’s now been a few days since I got my new MacBook Air.

In fact, I’m writing this post on it now…

And I can already tell that it’s going to take some getting used to, but I love how ridiculously thin and lightweight it is and I love how much faster and more reliable that it’s been than my desktop already, and overall things have been going fairly smooth as I’ve tried to acclimate myself to the new OS. I loaded new copies of Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite on within about an hour of turning it on and everything was very quick.

…and admittedly it’s a little weird actually paying for software after a lifetime of, well, not doing that… 😛

I’ve already had plenty of unexpected stumbling blocks along the way, like how to right click and how certain keyboard shortcuts work when keys are mapped differently for Mac. Plugging in my new keyboard and mouse helped a ton because at least the desktop keyboard I bought has Page Up and Page Down keys! Right now I’ve also got it using one of my two widescreen monitors (old Windows machine is still using the other until I’m ready to cut the cord), so really it’s pretty much like using a desktop machine again – just everything is in a different place and some things don’t work the way that I would expect after using Windows for … what? … over two decades?!

I think my biggest frustrations right now are:

  • Shortcuts like copy & paste use the Command key instead of Control, which is in a different place and awkward to reach. Admittedly I just now realized that maybe I should see if I can just remap this…
  • I can’t Command+Tab between windows in an open application – namely Chrome for starters, which is annoying because I usually have several open at a time to spread out my tabs. This is going to be a pain if it carries over to Word, too.
  • I wish that Finder was a little more flexible for browsing the file system, mainly because I still need to migrate most of my files over and I’m trying to figure out the best place to put them. Granted, part of this is also a OneDrive issue because ultimately I need them to sync via it, too.
  • My desk is too messy and I don’t have any room to setup my new docking station. Not really a Mac problem, per se, but still an issue that eventually I’m going to have to tackle!

Honestly I think that just about any new computer would’ve been a leg up for me at this point because my old one hangs on Chrome pretty regularly, making it impossible to use with as many tabs open as I tend to have, but I’m looking forward to getting back into my regular workflow to see how this thing goes – already I’ve written a few things (mostly via web browser) and I’ve done some simple photo edits in Photoshop, and everything so far has been really nice.

I’m also looking forward to all of that being portable so that whether I’m out on the couch with the baby or we go on vacation, I’m not limited to whatever apps are on the laptop I have access to at the time – essentially I should basically have my entire working desktop wherever I have my laptop, which is very cool. Granted, some apps will be trickier to use without a mouse – especially because I’m still learning to use this bizarre, Mac trackpad – but I shouldn’t find myself looking for online apps to resize photos at 1am in a hotel room at Disney for a blog post like I did the last time we were there! 🙂

So the verdict to date – so far so good, and although I’m kind of still surrounded by Windows machines at my desk at the moment, I’m trying to force myself to do more and more on the new machine just to start getting more used to it after they all eventually go away. Maybe I’ll write up another post in a month or so when I’m actually ready to cut the final cord and kiss Windows goodbye out of my life for good… 😉

Playing Computers

November 19, 2014 10:02pm
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computers

It’s kind of been a long time since I’ve played with computers like I used to back in the day.

The other day between writing this post and thinking about upgrading some random stuffs, I started tinkering with the old hardware that I’ve had stacked in the spare bedroom since we moved here two years ago. On the downside, it didn’t take long to remember the issues I was having previously because one of the two still won’t output any video at all, but on the upside, I also just so happened to have a junk laptop that my sister-in-law had asked me to fix before she just gave up and bought a new one instead, so I ended up reformatting that one and was able to get a copy of linux (CentOS) running on it to play around with in fairly short order.

The goal with this one is to take another stab at building a media server because I’m not really happy with what I can do with Apple TV and I’ve currently got three boxes of DVDs also sitting in the room next door that aren’t really doing anybody any good! Nobody wants to sift through boxes of movies just to find something to watch and we simply don’t have the room to have shelves upon shelves of DVDs anymore, so right now I’ve been playing around with Plex to see if I can get the thing to work even just a little on that old laptop there before moving to something bigger…

In a way it’s kind of been therapeutic to dive back into circuit boards and jumpers and ribbon cables, even though it’s incredibly frustrating and I’m quickly making a pile of stuff that can definitely get recycled for good this time! Sometimes I need to just step back and take a break from pretty much everything in life and despite all of the other work that I’m not getting done as a result, it’s been fun to poke around inside of these things and hopefully by the time all is said and done, maybe I’ll even have a swell, new way to watch all of my old movies by the time this fantastic, new TV of ours arrives in the next couple of weeks! 😉

The costs of cloud storage in 2014…

November 17, 2014 1:59am
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Despite being a lifelong computer geek, I’ve never really been very good about maintaining proper backups.

It’s always been something that was just off on the horizon – something that I was going to take care of soon, but not right now.

Thankfully I think I’ve only been bitten by this lack of preparation a couple of times … usually I’ve lucked out and been able to spin a hard drive up just long enough to pull data off after a crash, and I think I lost one drive a long time ago that was a repository for video files of TV shows and movies that got toasted and never recovered, but as far as I can remember, that’s about it.

That said, I know that I should do better and as I look towards upgrading to a new laptop here shortly in addition to just updating both of our phones, I’m trying to weigh my options as far as whose cloud all of this digital crap that we’ve accumulated should get stored in!

Just at a glance, we’ve got…

  • My Documents – 25 GB
  • Photos – 90 GB
  • Music – 85 GB
  • Video – 90 GB
  • Miscellaneous Other Stuff – 295 GB
  • iPhone / iPad data – 15 GB
  • Online Website Stuff – 5 GB

And granted, I think part of my problem in trying to devise a strategy for this all along is that I’ve always wanted one place to reliably backup all of this stuff, and a few years later now I’m looking back at it and thinking that maybe that isn’t really the right way to go anyways. Despite in total everything clocking in at barely over half a terabyte, now it’s all on different devices, and some of it I want to remain in sync on different devices, so more of a hybrid solution may very well be in order now that there are actually quite a few cloud storage options available.

The trouble is, picking which one! 😯

I’ve had a Dropbox account now for a couple of years, but I rarely use it because I didn’t want to install their app on some of the computers that I needed it on, and plus nowadays the storage capacity for a free account isn’t anywhere near what I need.

Google Drive is fine, though I’ve never used their app to really give it a proper workout. On the other hand, I’m quickly losing my faith in Google Docs because I kind of hate their word app and it’s by far the most important to me as a writer. Their spreadsheet app is ok, but I’m pretty experienced in Excel at this point and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve hit a wall saying, “But I know that I can do that in Excel!!!”

Which brings me to Microsoft OneDrive, which I honestly hadn’t even thought about until I just realized this evening that 1 TB of storage comes with any subscription to Office 365, which I’m going to have to get for $99/year with the new MacBook Air that I’ve had my eye on.

And then there’s also iCloud, which we just recently upgraded on both of our phones (at the lowest $0.99/month/device plan) to allow them to continue backing up as we moved to bigger devices because we were both randomly getting out of space errors with the last phones that we had!

As a side note, I’ve also been looking at a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud so that I can have Photoshop and Fireworks on the new computer, which comes with a free 20 GB of storage, but looking at the numbers above I don’t think that’s even worth thinking about at this point.

I guess at the moment I’m a little torn between OneDrive and iCloud – on one hand, OneDrive is essentially free with Office, whereas iCloud will run me another $10-20/month just for the laptop alone. And I think that’s what bugs me about iCloud is that ideally I’d like my wife’s phone and my own to share, but they still need their own accounts according to Apple despite now looking at $22/month just in cloud storage fees!

I think I still need to do some more research into this because from what I can tell, everything that iCloud can do, OneDrive can do, too, and if that’s the case, OneDrive will already be free for me!

The big takeaway that I’m looking for here is really simplicity and thoroughness – even though I’ll never write from my phone for the most part, the idea of having all of my Word docs available to browse anywhere I am is kind of appealing, just like it’d be nice if the photos I took from my phone could just magically sync to my PC instead of having to copy over the ones that I want to use in a blog post or whatever. And then there’s the whole media aspect of it – I know that I can’t have a couple hundred gigs stored on my phone at all times, but if all of my music and videos were in the cloud … even the stuff that I haven’t purchased from Apple! … that I could stream anywhere, be it traveling or whatnot, that would be a nice change from the messy file folders that I have today!!!

Granted, I know that I’m not going to solve all of these problems in one day. In fact, I don’t think I’m going to solve any of them until I’ve got my new laptop and I can install both of them and play around a bit with what they can do. From a cost perspective, obviously OneDrive would be ideal, and I think it might work with syncing phone photos if I install their iOS app like the website says (now if only my camera did the same thing!). If I could get OneDrive to handle documents, photos, and a simple cloud backup for media, that would be a good start … making them easily streamable to my phone or Sara’s iPad on the fly would be even better.

On top of all of this, I feel like I still need a good, solid local backup, too, which in the short term might be as simple as picking up a 4TB external hard drive for $150 to dump everything to as well as store some of the bulkier stuff (because my laptop will only have a 500 GB drive).

Ideally I eventually want to revisit my whole home server idea because in addition to shuttling files between phones and computers, I also want to see the media portion accessible via Smart TVs in the house … though that’s a taller order because I still need to sort out multiple sources (i.e. purchased from iTunes vs DVDs and Blu-Rays bought), co-mingling these all in one interface, and making them look pretty and easy to browse on the TV itself. At one point I thought that Apple TV might be a good front end for this, but now I’m not so sure. Additionally, I need a place where I can run scripted backups pulling down from my web server just to make me feel safer with a local backup on top of the network backups that they do today. All of these combined have been what’s steered me clear of a NAS box because I’m not sure how much actual functionality I could get from one aside from here are some drives for you to use.

Oh yeah, and I have to decide whether I still want a whole-computer backup for all of this crap as well, too, or if everything else listed above would be good enough!

Last year I paid for a subscription to CrashPlan on a Black Friday sale with the intent of finally backing up our photos, and a year later they’re asking me to renew and I never even installed the client software… 😛

Lots and lots of decisions, and I have a feeling that it’s going to end up being a phased approach simply because I can’t just go out and drop $1,000 on a new file server tomorrow like I’ve wanted to now for years! I want to avoid picking up lots of recurring fees because we already pay Verizon so much money just for connectivity at home and via mobile as it is … and yet, half a terabyte now more than ever, I’m starting to realize the value of the data we’ve collected over the years and just how much it would suck for any of it to randomly disappear due to a stupid disk crash again or something.

I’m sure this won’t be the last riveting post I write about the existing world of cloud storage – I’ll let you know what I come up with! 😀

(and good grief, I really need to come up with something to solve these problems this time…)

Admittedly I’ve had a lot of frustrations with Verizon lately regarding on demand services, direct marketing, and general bill creep, but this is still notable from a tech geek’s perspective.

I got an email from them a couple of days ago asking if I wanted to join their new rewards program! It sounded kinda stupid and I have no desire to interact with Verizon other than getting my TV & Internet services and paying for my TV & Internet services, but I ended up filling out the form anyways because of a little note at the bottom suggesting that random members would be selected for a free speed upgrade to make one’s upload speed match their download speed!

Alrighty then!!!

So my old speed was 50/25, which seemed fine enough for what we use on a daily basis, but here’s the new test:

3686155501[1]

For comparison’s sake, here are a few previous tests that I’ve gotten through FiOS over the years…

2903538952[1]

2117671705[1]

1966289436[1]

That last one was from the last house we were renting that admittedly had shitty wiring, and I think it was a 25/25 package anyways, which then got upgraded to 50/25 when we moved due to a stupid issue with how Verizon handles moving.

There’s still part of me that’s tempted to pay the extra couple of bucks to bump it up to a whopping 75/75, although with my current agreement just expiring and them being pretty stingy on what promotional offers renewals vs. new customers can get, I might just have to sit and enjoy 50/50 here for a while.

Still, not bad…  8)

WordPress vs. DSO & APC

July 17, 2014 6:13pm
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I’ve put off writing this post for a while now, partially because I’m still not sure that I understand it and partially to make sure that my “fixes” that I’ve put into place actually work! 🙄

So about a year ago I started having issues with the server that runs all of my websites running over-utilized. It was a big, nasty affair that we had a hard time tracking down, on top of being a nightmare because we were supposed to be celebrating my birthday over at Disney after having just started our second round of IVF with the embryo which would eventually become Christopher … needless to say, it was VERY stressful!

After we got things back up and running again, I spent about a week researching how to make sure that it never happened again and one thing that I dove heavy into was caching. There are some plugins that are decent, but you can also do caching at the server level on top of all that and this is where I met my new friend, APC

Now, the good thing about my friend APC is that it’s extremely efficient at what it does – like, it’s one of the best PHP accelerators you can run. Facebook uses it, which sometimes you wouldn’t know, but still, even I can’t deny that they’ve got a fuckton more users than I’ll ever have, so I’ll take their word for it! 8)

Of course, the bad thing about APC is that you have to change the way that PHP runs on your server to enable it … or at least I did. And that’s where the problems began…

Normally most shared environments will run under the SuPHP handler because it’s secure in the way it runs scripts under the users that actually own them. For WordPress, this makes permissions simple because everything just works right out of the box as it always has for me for the past blorgteen years.

Now to run APC, however, I needed to switch over to DSO, which from a security standpoint didn’t seem like a big deal because I run on a VPS, not a shared server now, so there’s not really any risk of “other users” running anything on my machine because there simply aren’t any.

That said, what DSO does do is royally hose up permissions in WordPress because the settings that it needs to upload images, edit themes, update plugins, etc… don’t work because now the web server runs as a separate user (“nobody”) instead of whatever user happens to own the files that it’s trying to execute.

…SOOOOOO…

I finally decided to spend some time digging in to fix this. For a few months, I actually did this very much the wrong way by chmodding the uploads folders of the main sites I was using at the time to 777 … which is bad, so don’t do that!!!

Instead, it seems that the solution wasn’t too crazy after all – to fix the file uploads, I just did a chown -R nobody:nobody uploads and that cascaded the new ownership recursively through all of the subfolders … no need to change any actual permissions, except to change them back from 777, anyways!

I was also able to do this for my Disney site that runs NextGEN Gallery and the results were the same (sorry, can’t remember the specific folder, but it’s in there somewhere!).

Now as for plugins and theme updates, this got a little trickier because I tried the same above and that didn’t seem to work, and I really didn’t want to open up permissions on these folders … even though there’s apparently a way to mask them back to normal by inserting something like these into your wp-config.php file:

define('FS_CHMOD_FILE', 0755);
define('FS_CHMOD_DIR', 0644);

Instead, I inserted these into my wp-config.php file…

define('FTP_HOST', 'localhost');
define('FTP_USER', 'username');
define('FTP_PASS', 'password');

You may have noticed as I did many times throughout this ordeal that if WordPress tries to make an update, but can’t because it doesn’t have the right permissions, it will jump to a screen asking for FTP credentials and then make the changes it wants to do via FTP instead. For the longest time I just entered these manually out of frustration, but now that I think I’ve settled on as close to a “solution” for this as I can get, the above three lines prevent it from prompting me for credentials and I’m now able to install, update, and delete plugins and themes from within WordPress just as if I was running under SuPHP!

Admittedly, I am a little curious to know if there are any other security flaws with having some folders owned by nobody, but from what I can tell it’s still feasible and loads safer than 777. And I get to keep running APC, which I’ve now thrown enough memory at to keep roughly 99% of the php files from all of my sites caching out of system memory instead of parsing off the disk, so that’s a nice little speed improvement that you may have noticed around here!

…but if you do know something I should know about setting up permissions and ownership this way, do be a good samaritan and let me know, though, would ya? Right now I’m cautiously content … so take that for what you will… 😕

Did I click to the wrong website or has my challenge question been transformed into some sort of challenge riddle?

How does one answer the question that isn’t one???

lowes_mystery

Keeping in mind that this is the same website that for six months required that I setup my challenge questions every single time I visited as if each visit was my first, this doesn’t really surprise me. Thank god the same people who run their credit website aren’t the ones who sell me stuff at the store… 🙄

Is Avast becoming bloatware???

March 3, 2014 10:48pm
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It drives me nuts every time I go to install an update to Flash (every other day?!) and I get prompted to install Norton Whatever-the-Fuck-It-Is 2014 for the umpteenth time … but I kind of get it, because they get a few bucks from each install and I don’t pay them a dime for Flash. Ok…

But apparently I just learned that now Avast is doing it, too, and the problem with this latest update that installed this SafePrice Toolbar browser add-in is that it didn’t prompt me before doing it. Or if it did, that prompt flew by real quick because the first time this toolbar triggered when I was shopping on Amazon, I was sure that my browser had gotten hijacked:

avast_malware

It’s easy enough to uninstall by going into the Avast settings under Chrome -> Extensions, but the point is that I shouldn’t have to because it shouldn’t install itself in the first place unless I ask it to. That’s a big no-no for software companies, or at least for software that runs on my computers. Might be time to start shopping around for the next free anti-virus suite if they’re going to start being sneaky like this. 🙁

 

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