DYI Servers

1. Right now the easiest thing to do is to get a NAS box which supports 4-12 bays. I personally use Synology for this, they are reasonably cheap and they keep their linux based system up to date. (You can even run docker containers on it). Idk how much future proofing you do, but right now the sweet spot box is a 4-drive NAS (I have an 8 and a 12). With 8TB drives, these can last a good long time. Since I’m a bit of a geek, I’ve found the 12 is just about perfect because it has a enough space and then you don’t have to constantly rebuild drives. I normally run these in 2 drive fail over mode, but as @vsadovsky has pointed out to me, these days it is easier just to run in RAID10 so that you get one drive worth of failover and instant recovery. Recovery is the bane of these large systems and in fact in recovering a raid drive you can actually cause a read error destroying the array.
2. You can also build your own server if you are a power geek (we have a hand built server in the surround.io office in a 24-disk chassis), this is something you only want in a machine room however.
3. In terms of ripping drives, I’ve mainly focused on Mac tools, but there are quite a few of them. Basically both DVDs and Bluray have been cracked and so you can easily “backup” those formats onto the system.
4. In terms of viewing, you have a few choices. With Android setup boxes, there is a viewer called Kodi which works well and streams off the box. Assuming you have 1GB ethernet, this works fine and a Synology. I run the system in SMB and AFS mode (you can also run it in NFS if you like :slightly_smiling_face:
5. For viewing, there are also viewers for your phone and of course Windows and Mac. Kodi works on all of them, although many times i just use VLC as I don’t need the full browsing experience.
6. Finally, you can also use this whole setup as a DVR. There is a box called HDHomeRun Prime which is a OTA/Cable box that converts those into an MPEG-2 stream over IP. There is a free tool called MythBox that then acts as a personal DVR and this easily allows direct viewing or there is a Kodi plug in and this is the homebrew way to integrate ripped DVD/Blu-Ray with live viewing. We actually don’t use that anymore as the kids have lost interest in cable and we don’t watch sports.

Encoding UHDTV, x.265, 4K aka UHD

Wow now that UltraHD is now a thing and you can buy UHD Blu-ray, how do you think about encoding all of this. Well here are some of the things to know:

  1. X.265 (aka HEVC). This is the latest encoding format. Think of it as life beyond X.264 (aka MPEG-4). It is about twice as efficient so save some disk while you are at it!
  2. Rec. 709 and Rec. 2020. Ok these are terrible names, but refer to the color space (that is how many colors are represented). With the now ancient Blu-ray this wasn’t an issue but now that we are moving to HDR with a wide gamut, you want Rec.709 at least and Rec 2020 is better. Of course,
  3. 10-bit color. Related to the above wider color range, today you mainly get 8-bit color, but with wider gamut, you need more bits, so encoding at 10-bits (what in the old days was called 24 bit RGB vs 30 bit RGB) is a big win.
  4. 4K vs well 4K. Ok, one confusing thing is that are two slightly different widths. 4K can mean a true 4096 pixels across or 3840 or so to match the 1920 across that is HD. A bit of a small detail but good to

Using Windows Keyboard with a Mac

If you like your spiffy new mechanical keyboard but want to use it on a Mac, you need to map the Command key and Option key around because on a Mac, it goes Control, Alt or Option and then Command whereas on a Windows keyboard it is Control, Windows-Key and then Alt.

This is really confusing for muscle memory. The solution is to remap the Modifier keys, you go to System Preferences/keyboard/modifier keys and then select the USB Keyboard and then for Option Key map to Command Key and vice versa. Done!


Google Shared Folders to your desktop

Google Drive has some pretty hard to understand semantics when it comes to sharing folders and files. When a file or folder is shared with you, they are not synced to your desktop, they live in a special place called ‘Shared With Me’

So they do not take any of your disk quota (much better than Dropbox), but they do not sync down with you use the Google Drive client for Mac or Windows. You can edit them to your hearts content. Note that with Google Apps (now called GSuite), you never actually download any data, instead you get a tiny file which points to data in the cloud. This is nice because you can rename the files to your hearts content and Google doesn’t get confused.

In contrast, Microsoft OneDrive does copy the real data down and if you rename things and then sync up, you can get in real trouble. Because it has to figure out what files are actually different.

As an aside with GSuite, the way that offline viewing is done is that the actual data is cached in the Chrome browser and so you never actually manipulate the files, just pointers. That makes it really hard to setup because you have to remember to enable offline for each Chrome and then each document, but it works better when there are multiple copies since only GSuite code manipulates things.

Finally, if you want to make a shared folder act like a regular Google folder that is owned by you you have to do something very special which is to use the web browser right click on the files or folders in Shared with me and select “Add to My Drive” so it now count in your quota and get synced

Annoying things about IMAP and MacOS and iOS

Well somehow things just keeping getting more annoying, but here are the gotchas if you have your own generic IMAP account:

  1. MacOS seems to get confused about the default account. And you get this strange, cannot move message to (null) message. What this means is that you need to go to Mail/Preferences/Accounts and look into your account and then in the Mailbox Behaviors and click on Drafts, Sent and Junk and Trash and select the server side folders typically INBOX/
  2. iOS has the same issue, the defaults are not set, so after you sign on you need to go to the Settings/MailAccounts/ and pick the new IMAP account/Advanced and set all the Mailbox behaviors to use the server side.

T-Mobile or Verizon with the best coverage

Well these are confusing results: T-Mobile is first in OpenSignal and last with Root Metrics. Makes some sense if you think about it. One is weighted by people. So there is a bias where most people are on the cities. Root metrics is by region. So the best plan would be to use t-mobile mainly and have a Verizon prepaid sim for rural trips. Kind of the way we currently use google fi overseas right now to augment Verizon. But this is even cheaper given t-mobile pricing and free international. U might only need Verizon once or twice a year.


Trying T-Mobile, Google Fi and Verizon

Well, we’ve been using Verizon for a while (mainly because coverage in house was just so poor with AT&T). But two years ago, GoogleFi shipped and the ability to pause the service and the roaming with T-Mobile and Sprint actually worked pretty well. And of course the zero roaming charges was really great. It has been our Goto for travel for a while and it does work.

Lately though, along with good reports on T-Mobile standalone from OpenSignal (and a little help from a good buddy there),  I thought it would be a good time to try the service as a daily driver. The new T-Mobile One is pretty impressive. Basically you get $40/month unlimited data, text and talk time with a 28GB/phone limit (!!!). That compares with the Verizon plans which are a little more complicated but basically the lowest cost one I could find is $15/phone but $70 for 10GB of data, so mathematically that’s a pretty good deal.

Even with limited usage, say 5 phones sharing 10GB, this costs $180 or so including all taxes and with a decent discount for being a small business.

So with this new plan the notational five phones would be $160 (without discounts and probably taxes although they say all taxes are included).

The main concerns are:

  1. Coverage
  2. Service

So here’s the adventures with a T-Mobile SIM:

  1. I got a one cent T-Mobile prepaid SIM from Amazon. Hard to beat that price!
  2. When I opened it, it said here’s the activation code when you call. Remember to flip the page and there you will find the phone number.
  3. Then with T-Mobile.com, at least right now, I had to use Firefox on the Mac. Safari kept hanging on the pages and Chrome seemed to work better, but the billing system kept showing the bill screen and then went back to main screen. They definitely to convert to Bootstrap and a more modern screen look. I had forgotten how much I had expected that (microservices!)
  4. It took about 10 minutes for the phone to figure out that it had been paid for. But you get a nice text message telling you the phone number. And when you connect to Wifi and enable Wifi calling, you get coverage in the house. Hurray!

Anyway that’s all for now, so now I’m doing my own little test! I sure hope it works.

Adding Emojis to Gsuite on the Mac

How maddening is this, with traditional Mac Apps, it is pretty simple. Got to Edit/Emojis & Symbols. Find the arrow or whatever and then double click.

This however does not work with Gsuite at least on Safari:

  1. Google Docs. You cannot double click, you can however drag and drop the symbols
  2. Google Slides, does not double click and when you drag you get a separate text box

Instead, you have to use the Google’s own internal Insert Special Characters does work

Mac DVD VOB files to MKV

I haven’t ripped a DVD in a very long time, but sometimes I see these VOB files. I have used Handbrake in the past to get my old DVDs of the kids over to a modern format, but somehow the latest Handbrake fails me and stops after the first segment. Sigh.

So onto looking for a new tool that works so here’s the alternative path:

  1. MKVTooINixMKVTooINix. This takes the 1G .VOB files and stuffs them into a single MKV container. The Handbrake seems to fail along the VOB boundaries. As a refresher, the original DVD file format had a 1GB per file limit, so movies were split into .VOB files. You have to find the right file names, typically 01_0x.VOB and then open them in this tool. It then produces a single huge Matrovska file. With the MPEG-2 encoding used in DVDs, a 2 hour movie would be about 11GB. A typical DVD would be 720×480
  2. Handbrake to transcode to X.265. Once you have this MKV file, you can use Handbrake to encode it in X.265. This is about 2x better than X.264 which is in turn about 4x better than MPEG-2. Net, net your 11GB file should