Update: Tech Rig Galore And Fun Discoveries

Worst-writer’s Feb 2021 desk rig.

The pic above, dear worst-reader, is the latest and greatest desktop setup of my tech world. As you may or may not note from any of my SBC and tech posts (https://worstwriter.com/tag/sbc/), I’m a cheap-o when it comes to tech stupid-money. That said, myself and my better-half are Apple fan-boys. To maintain a bit of perspective, our Apple world consists of iPhones, iPads and a 2015 and 2017 MacBook. That’s right. I’m a fan of the 12″ MacBooks that are supposed to have the terrible butterfly keyboards–and IMHO the 12″ form factor is the bomb. Although mine is a workhorse, my better-half’s MacBook is barely used on account she’s a real iPad user both personally and professionally. If it’s a contradiction to say I’m a tech cheap-o after we buy so much Apple stuff, well, maybe in this one area we do splurge somewhat–even though most Apple purchase for me are refurbished products.

Continue on the cheap-o tech theme. My better-half gets a new iPhone and iPad every few years and I then get her hand-me-down iPad, which is also used around our little townhouse as a media controller and music player for the various SBCs for both audio and video. I try to make my iPhones last for at least four years, which I was able to do with my previous iPhone 7s. My iPhone 11 is about to turn two years old and my wife’s iPhone 10 is pushing three and half years–and if it weren’t for COVID, where she works from home full-time, she would have replaced it already. Back to my desktop rig.

My 2017 12″ MacBook is my favourite Mac of all-time. I absolutely love this thing. It took me a while to get used to dongle hell but that quickly faded the more and more I used it. Considering the new–and for the first time in my Mac-life fairly priced M1 Macs–I’m still hoping that this Intel Mac will hold-out a while longer, especially considering Apple doesn’t seem to have another 12″ MacBook in the works. Anywho. As I first started using the MacBook it never occurred to me that I might want a second monitor connected along with the one I’m already using while it’s in clamshell mode. But then I discovered something kinda cool.

Again. As a cheap-o, I refuse to replace perfectly good devices simply because their I/O changes with the times. Take for example my monitors. On the left is a 10+ year old 22″ Dell monitor. It doesn’t even have HDMI. Using an adapter cable, it’s been a second monitor for this MacBook and my previous 2010 13″ MacBook Pro.

But what about the monitor on the right, dear worst-writer? A 2017 12″ MacBook can’t drive two external monitors.

Good question dear worst-reader. And how worst-right you are. Or?

The monitor on the right is actually a 22″ Samsung TV. It’s gotta be at least twelve years old now. For years I’ve mainly used it as a monitor for AppleTVs. You know, one in the kitchen or in a spare room for $hits&giggles. But I finally replaced my ageing AppleTV3 with an AppleTV4 (refurbished) last summer and connected it to a fancy-pants beamer. It took a few months to figure out what to do with this old little TV but lo and behold… I’m using the old AppleTV3 (also purchased ten years ago refurbished), which is attached to the back, so I can stream (or is the nomenclature in this case “cast?) from my MacBook directly to it. Obviously it’s not a second monitor per se, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect for streaming audio/video while working–and my little MacBook handles it all with ease. I’ve been using this setup for a few months now and I’m sorry I hadn’t thought of it much earlier. But perhaps that’s a whole other worst post.

The beamer and ATV4 are on the bookshelf.

And while on the subject of cheap-o and neat-o tech discoveries. Get this. The one main problem with using AppleTV and, say, a beamer, especially when watching movies, is that Apple and the tech world still don’t quite have it right when it comes to wireless audio. This is the main reason I refuse to go anywhere near those fancy (and stupid-money expensive) HomePods. I’ve read that they also have issues when it comes to streaming audio from from a video source. That said, I’m using an open-source version of Apple’s Airport technology called Shairport for audio streaming. Shairport is what all my audio/video SBCs use to mimic Apple’s airport technology, which allows me to circumvent Apple’s stupid and greedy eco-system politics. With only audio it works fine and if anyone is a cheap-o like me, but you still want good audio in your home, look into this stuff. Needless to say, I’m often disappointed when watching a movie and the audio constantly goes haywire. Until the other day. I realised (yeah, I’m a slow learner), hey, why not try your AirPods when watching a movie. So I did. I put them in, fired up the AppleTV and beamer and clicked around in the AppleTV OS to add another audio device. My AirPods were immediately recognised. And guess what? It doesn’t only work great when watching a movie, it’s actually some of the best audio I’ve heard in years when watching something via AppleTV. Who’d a thunk it, dear worst-reader!

And there you have it as only worst-writer can present it. Cheap-o tech world from a young #OKBoomer that found a way out of the $hithole that is #Americant but never thought he’d land in #Eurowasteland along with so many $hits&giggles.

Rant (and cheap-o tech) on, baby.

-T

PS Oh yeah. I still use a manual typewriter to write my mother letters.

Update: Non NAS NAS Galore, SBCs, Daily Rig

How ’bout a bit of a worst-update regarding worst-writer’s tech krapp? Yes. No. Well, then… buckle up butter cup cause I haven’t typed anything all day and I am seriously itchy. Or maybe not.

As of late 2020 there’s nothing left to be (technically) done, changed, updated, booted (into the bin) or saved in my humble abode of tech krapp galore. In fact, everything in my reduce & simplify tech world works great right now. Reduce & simplify means nothing more than getting rid of truck-like tech devices, an effort I consider complete as of 2018 which is also reflected in the fact that I have a half dozen (or so) SBCs doing things such as: stereo systems, media players, bluetooth audio end-points, servers, etc. Cool, eh. More worst-writer posts about the journey is here (tag link).

By-the-buy, worst-writer’s SBC journey includes not only Raspberry Pi but also Pine64. So let me discard a few worst-words about that. At this point I’m pretty much done with Pine64. It’s not that I don’t like their boards. It’s just that getting them to work is above my pay-grade. That worst-said, I’ve still got a RockPro64 running as a samba server and as a Jellyfin media server. Reason for Jellyfin? My linux distro of choice for both the the RockPro64 and a lingering Rock64, i.e. that which fits my pay-grade, is DietPi. It’s the only Linux distro I’ve been able to manage on both the RockPro64 and the Rock64 with only minor headaches. Even though I’ve tried distros that include OMV (Open Media Vault), I’ve always found myself resorting back to DietPi–on account I couldn’t get the others to work. In fact, my Rock64 (the little brother of the RockPro64) is connected to an external 4-bay HDD enclosure which I use to back up my RockPro64. It’s also serving as a PiHole anti-ad server—which I kinda love. The problem is, I’m starting to feel as though these two devices are at their end—at least in my worst-world. And get this. The RockPro64 feels like it has a bit more life left in it, the Rock64 is pretty much maxed out. I think. Pause. Drink. Gulp. I should move on.

Thank goodness last summer (or fall), as I was losing my $hit over Plex (hating it) and looking for a replacement (within my pay-grade), DietPi began offering Jellyfin in their repository. Since Jellyfin is an open source fork (I think) of Kodi (or is it Emby), which I’ve used on Raspberry Pi, I quickly felt at home with it. My only question has been: how long will it work–before all else fails (which seems to be a result of my low-pay-grade Linux capabilities)? The good news: So far so good–and even my better-half is getting used to using Jellyfin. My better-half, btw, hated Plex more than me and she totally refused to use it. I’m sorry to get on Plex so much. But, as the saying goes, never go full retard, which Plex has done with its microsoft-like, big bloated-ness. But on that note, I die-gress.

As far as media servers go… With Plex on my $hitlist, do I even need a media server? There was actually a short stint there where I thought I’d just give up completely on a media server and use the various Raspberry Pi’s as media players that simply access files via samba. And they worked.The problem with that, though, is, it seems, my iPhone and iPads couldn’t handle the (direct) file access using VLC. I’m not sure if that has to do with my home network setup or VLC on iOS. It doesn’t really matter because, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get seamless playback using any iOS device via samba. Once I started using Jellyfin the iOS devices worked toot-sweet. I suppose that has something to do with transcoding. And so. Back on to SBCs.

After a few years of use, worst-writer is questioning how long will the RockPro64 last and/or when will I replace it with, say, a Raspberry Pi compute module 4? At this juncture, after using an RPi4-4gb for the past few months as a desktop PC, where I mostly watched YouTube videos, streamed movies or TV (from my media server) or used the Terminal app to manage my Linux devices, I’m tickled to death about how well it actually works. In fact, I was really tickled by how well the newest 64bit version of Ubuntu worked on it. I can’t praise Raspberry Pi enough for such an achievement with these little devices. And, by-the-buy, to my worst-mind, Raspberry Pi’s achievements is only rivalled by what Apple did with the first Mac and later the iPhone. And so.

The Raspberry Pi is nothing short of phenomenal. Not only has it rocked my low pay-grade world but it’s obviously gonna be even more valuable in the near future for my everything networked household. That you can get an RPi for less than a hundred bucks with only a few bucks more to turn it into (what I consider) a high-end audio player (HifiBerry!), it’s no longer a question of if but when these little things will completely over-take the PC world–let alone the fact that I have never regretted selling all my old standard high-voltage stereos and A/V receivers. Add to that the new RPi compute module, which should eventually replaced my RockPro64, I’m tickled to death that my choice to start fiddling with these things in the first place so many years ago was the right choice.

But. As usual. I’m probably off worst-subject. As I’ve said with a whole lot of nothingness here and there, what’s the deal about non-nas-nas and my daily rig (the title fo this worst-post)? Well, since the/my non-nas-nas is based on an SBC, albeit the RockPro64, which, as stated above, I’m not sure how long it’s gonna be around, I can’t complain all that much. It does work–as a samba server. And samba is all about file sharing. And as far as I can tell, I’ve lost no data after fiddling and fiddling. But I have gone through quite a bit of headache and troubleshooting. I’ve also concluded after all this time and effort, Pines64/RockPro64 is not a NAS replacement–unless you’re interested in a lot of troubleshooting and Linux headaches. But it does look good in that Pine64 case (see pic above). Or?

Since I refuse to buy a NAS (aka Synology or Drobo), beggars can’t be choosy. I’ve had to fiddle quit a bit to the point where I’ve (pretty much) given up on having a home NAS as a file storage device. Since my wife and I are Apple fans and we use Macs and iOS devices, I simply maintain a TimeMachine drive that is connected to an old AirPort Extreme which backs up our Macs. It works and works and works. Other than that, we use 200gb of iCloud space for important files and photos on both Mac and iOS. So I guess. If I wanted to. I could provide a half decent worst-argument that average tech users don’t even need a nas. I mean. I’m using the RockPro64 as a media server only on account my pay-grade can’t really get it to do anything else. But. Again. I die-gress.

As far as I my home rig goes. Get this, dear worst-reader. Like I said above, I’m really, really, seriously impressed with the RPi4-4gb as a desktop PC. In fact, I’m so impressed with it, that I’m probably gonna buy the RPi4-8gb this spring, relegating the 4gb device to some media player service and then, when it’s available, getting the RPi compute module 4 so I can get rid of the headache that is the RockPro64–and then, finally, begin the process of getting into some kind of truly functional non-nas-nas configuration. OMV, as far as I can remember, works great on RPi (and terrible on Pine64)–it’s just been a matter of waiting for RPi to provide some kind of SATA interface. If/when Raspberry ups the RPi4 to an RPi5, though… well, heck, don’t you know. I’m already re-thinking weather or not I’m gonna replace my MacBook with a new M1 device in 2021. And even though the new Macs with M1s are rockin’ good, the thought of actually getting a M1 MacMini just ain’t in the cards on account how well RPi’s are working these days. As far as my 2017 Intel MacBook goes, slow or no-slow, avoiding Big Sur (and Apple’s stupid update policies), etc., etc., I’m still kind of good so I’ll probably keep it a while longer. And so.

Tech happy, baby. Nuff typed.

Rant on.

-T

Desk Rig While Migrating To Linux

desk setup Feb 2020.jpeg

In worst-writer’s quest to eventually (when exactly?) dump MacOS, I’ve been dabbling in Linux for quite some time. The problem, of course, is that I’m a very slow learner. Add to that the relative slowness of previous RPi’s, I’ve not yet felt comfortable with Rasbian or any other Linux distro on the RPI3, with the exception of Dietpi, but that’s not really a desktop option. Besides, as we all know, eh dear worst-reader, there’s no place in this worst-world for slow learners or pure CLI. Hence I am worst-writer and I’m destined to live as such–slow CPU here or there albeit with a desktop environment. And so. Since Windows is out of the question, the alternative OS for worst-moi can only be Linux with a fancy desktop distro. My only regret with facing such a reality is that I have to wait till my current MacBook is ready for the dung-heap before making the change. The laptops from System76 are looking pretty right now. Reason for the wait, though, is simple: that fcuking pink MacBook was fcuking expensive and to make matters worst it fcuking works great as a worst-writer daily driver, USB-C dongle or not. I’m mean, it is one of Apple’s smallest and weakest computers. Yet I love the thing, krappy keyboard n’all. And for fourteen hundred painful Euros… I can’t believe I paid that much for such an underpowered device. What’s wrong with me? Goo-goo, ga-ga. Bling, bling. Anywho.

The reason I’m eventually (when exactly?) changing to Linux is the open question of the day, of course. What’s clear is that I’m really NOT interested in paying the über high price for Macs anymore. Considering how the company is going full iOS, plus the Apple tax, i.e. the made-up cost (arbitrary) of Apple + intel that is bordering on STUPID, when considering the power and usability of something as cheap as an RPi (ARM processors), it all only reminds me that the whole industry is, not unlike #Trump and the LAND OF FREE TO BE STUPID, waaaaaaaaaay out of whack. And as we all know, I’ll tolerate an iPad as a hand-me-down from my wife for viewing media and reading digital books but boy oh boy do I hate touch screen computing–and I’ll never (in this case never say never may or may not apply) buy another iPad for as long as worst-live. But let’s not get tied up on the tablet thing and me making promises worst-writer might not be able to keep, eh.

As you can see in the pic above, I’m currently running my Mac world on the right side of my desk and on the left my new RPi4 world. Since I’m also not ready to splurge on a new monitor, I’m using an old TV that has two HDMI ports as my RPi monitor. And although a TV is not a computer monitor, this one works pretty good on account it’s desktop small. At the least, it’s good enough for fiddling around with Raspbian-Linux (a Debian distro). To my surprise, even after only using it for a few weeks, the whole desk setup, including those new infancy monitor arms, works pretty good. Considering I didn’t have to buy a new keyboard for the RPi4, which I thought I’d have to do to use two computers systems on one desk, the setup is looking even cooler. My old Apple keyboard and mouse work just fine on the RPi4. As you’ll note in the pic above, there is also a second RPi, an RPi3b+, that I’m currently using as a retro game tester, which is plugged into the TV’s second HDMI port. I did splurge on a cheap knock-off PS3 controller for that one, though. I may or may not post something regarding RPi retro gaming but that’ll have to wait since I’m still trying to figure out how it works.

As far as desktop setup and duel monitor arms, I splurged on a you-know-who Basics offering. Although there is no vertical movement of the monitor arms, you can easily adjust height via the centre poll. It’s all not as uppity and fancy as those more expensive arms that seem to float in the air but I suppose that’s the reason this one only cost 35,-€. And since I can rotate my Dell monitor 90° when needed, as I sometimes use it in portrait mode when working on longer draft worst-writing, this is all über-good, baby.

Yes. All in all this is a cool desktop solution for lots of worst-writing, including lots of continued worst-writing procrastination. Combined with my Ikea height adjustable desk, I should be good till the next urge to consume-to-survive hits and I have to buy something else that I don’t really need but is, well, cool. Speaiing of consuming things needed (or not), I’m really digging the idear of getting back into motorcycling. Maybe this year I’ll be able to worst-post something about getting back on two (powered) wheels again. Or maybe not.

Rant on.

-T

Worst-Road Travelled: The NON NAS NAS

Well, there you have it, dear worst-reader. As I’ve indicated in many a-worst-post here and there, I hate the NAS industry. In fact, even though I kinda grew up with it, worked in it, played with it, I sort-a hate the tech industry. But that’s neither here or elsewhere. And so. Of all the tech krapp out there since consume-to-survive with interwebnets is the new & improved way of worst-life, the tech that’s pissed me off the most–other than gaming PCs, don’t you know–is the rip-off that is NAS boxes. And so, in my quest to avoid such devices–even as the world progresses ever-more towards co-called cloud computing–which is nothing more than an industry controlling (your; all) content–I’ve spent the last few years (since 2015???) trying to figure out how to maintain a quarter century of personal data so that my data1 is mine and mine only. And keep in mind, dear worst-reader, when I say my data I really do mean the stuff that belongs to me–copyright here or there, political or generational ideology here or there, greed-mongers included. For as far as I’m concerned, most of the media industry (audio, video, tv, radio, podcast, etc.) has been ripping people off since Welles’ 1938 broadcast of Wells. But let’s adhere to the current issue of copyright nonsense and/or avoiding the costs of corporate obsoletism galore. I mean, if it weren’t for the ability of worst-moi to get copies of albums from friends and foes on cassette–back in the day–I wouldn’t have purchased half of the music that I currently own. Hence, with the likes of iTunes and streaming services, I can’t remember the last time I actually consumed music. Which brings me to this tangent: Not only does most of the music produced in the last thirty years suck but the way one is forced to get it sucks too. Wait. That’s not quite right. At the least, I don’t consume music like I once did. You know, buy a CD and then rip it and then listen to it either via cassette, ripped/copied CD or iPod. Indeed. But I do remember buying Greta Van Fleet last year as shitty mp3 download or some Brian Jonestown Massacre and, yes, a Japanese only version of Sinatra At the Sands–at least I think it was Sinatra but it could have been his daughter and, don’t you know, those boots walking all over me in dream. But. Once again. I’m off subject. Nomatter.

So I’m not really into consuming much media anymore. Although I suppose I shouldn’t count ebooks in the mix. I have actually bought more of those than music or videos. Still. Even though I don’t buy much digital content, what’s the point of maintaining an ageing library of content that is, for the most part, poorly ripped? Well, I guess, because I can. And. More import. Because. It’s mine. Or. To be more fair to my worst-self, I maintain such a digital library because, well, I get a kick out of it and, so far, it’s proven to be a slap in the face of an industry hellbent on continuing the grand rip off. And so. Indeed. Enter the world of SBCs as a means to circumvent the grand rip-off.

The discovery of SBCs for worst-moi (2015) has been a godsend, dear worst-reader. Not only has the world of SBC opened up my digital horizons, I think it too might be saving me time, effort and, of course, money. Not to mention that these little computer boards are as fun as tits waving in spring time as though man-scarcity were the norm and the Weinstein tragedy were long behind us. Add to that the fact that I’m slowly becoming comfortable–at a very superficial level, of course–with Linux, as that’s the system that runs on SBCs–and I feel that the/my future of tech is bright, shiny and cheap–where it once was dim, dark and dank thanks to the greed of Apple & Co. Or am I the only one that thinks the time has come to put the rip-off tech industry in its humble place? Oh wait. There’s still a deal here or there on a Synology or a Drobo, eh? Oh fcuk me. Nomatter.

And so. Worst-writer, with this worst-post, wishes to coin a phrase. Ready? Here we go:

NON NAS NAS

I get a nickel for every time it’s used, don’t you know.

That’s right. As of early 2020, after five or so years of fiddling here and there, having bought, discarded or returned several NAS boxes (Western Digital, Synology, Drobo), I’m finally feeling comfy with having found a replacement for at least one part of the rip-off tech industry. That replacement? Single board computers, baby. The PC is dead. Long live SBCs. You know, Raspberry Pi, Pine64, etc. I especially love the RPi4 with its GB ethernet and USB3. Not only is it a fully functioning computer but it’s also finally a viable alternative to the rip-off intel-based PC industry. The RPi4 that I’ve been fiddling with as a desktop device works like a charm even though, in my cheapness, I have to hook it up to a ten year old 20″ TV, which is the only HDMI ported monitor I have right now. Put another worst-way, I cannot hook my RPi4 up to my 5 year old Dell 22″ monitor because, well, it doesn’t have HDMI. That is, mini-HDMI to DVI doesn’t seem to work, adapter here or there. Nomatter. VNC over my network works fine. For you see, dear worst-reader, I’d gladly spend more dough on replacing a monitor or buying new cables than having to spend thousands to replace the Mac I’m worst-typing this on right now. Which brings me to the godsend part of this worst-post. As I’ve suspected while fiddling with SBCs, this also might be the last Mac I ever buy. For don’t you know, dear worst-reader, a linux laptop has to be in the worst-writer mix soon enough.

Hail the NON-NAS-NAS! Hail SBC!

Rant on.

-T


  1. The whole use of the word my and/or I is part of a generation, don’t you know. Which? #OKBoomer, of course. Or is there another generation that has been so greedy, so selfish, so narcissistic, so that the likes of #Trump can find its way to the surface? Or maybe not. ↩︎

SBC Rundown

As I’ve stated here and there in this worst-blog, Steve Jobs had it right. Long live the post-PC era. Long live… Steve?

With that in mind, as of the end of 2019, I’ve got two too many SBC’s in my abode. You know, post-PC stuff galore, dear worst-reader. Oh what to do, what to do, what to do?

Have I ever been more tickled with so much tech gluttony? There was a time, don’t you know, when I had too many Macs hanging around. What a time that was, eh. The good news is: unlike the old school computer world, to which I’m kinda bound heart and soul, when you have too much of anything, Macs included, it’s easy to use them all as a kind of tech filler in a life of early retirement fanboy boredom. The thing is, Macs, unlike PCs, can’t just fade away. In my experience a ten year old Mac can do as much as when it was new, whereas a PC of the same age can only be useful if turned into a linux machine–and even that has extreme limitations. But let me move on as my pretentiousness might be getting out of hand.

In my case, not only was I able to find purpose for most of my ageing Macs, as in, you know, a file server here, a Plex media server there, but I also let my better half take one of them and slowly claim that she too is a Mac user (when in reality she’s still stuck in the corporate issued PC world). After a decade or so of maintaining all those machines, though, and thereby accumulating a relatively vast library of digital media–and waking up to the reality of streaming media which is also part of the post-pc era that I’m failing at avoiding, circumventing–I got bored as hell waiting for files to copy, data to process, backing it all up, lifting a forty pound Mac Pro from one room to the other, etc. And so. Welcome to the new world of SBCs, especially Raspberry Pi. Indeed, dear worst-reader. Where would I be today without these little miracle devices that have been a long time coming and have finally provided the means to break away from the old guard truck-PC world of wasted digital everything?

But. Again. Before I get too far off on my pretentious sailing yacht named tech-no-nevermind, here’s where things stand with worst-writer’s post-pc era household. Here’s a rundown of my SBCs and their usefulness galore.

RPi3B + HiFiBerry Amp2 + Volumio

Been dabbling in this–dare I call it–cheap-audiophile setup for going on two years now. Other than a few glitches here or there, it works like a charm. Of course, it also sounds great in any room hooked up to Audioengine P4 speakers or Pioneer BS22’s that I stuffed in a suitcase and lugged across the Atlantic last year on account I couldn’t buy them in #Eurowasteland. In fact, as far as I can tell, it works with any set of speakers. Considering its cost, especially if you already have digital media and server capability in your life, and, perhaps, a few speakers from the good old days laying around, I don’t understand why any #okboomer doesn’t have one of these just for the fun of it.

That worst-said, since using this as my go-to audio player, a question has arisen with my better half: as an Apple household, is it time to go (aghast) HomePod? Indeed. But the biggest turn-off with Apple’s HomePod is the simple fact that I cannot use it with my current music library setup–unless I integrate that setup into Apple’s greed $hit$how music subscription service, previously known as iTunes.

First of all, iTunes sucked bat balls, including its new iteration “Music”. The only place I use it is on my iPhone–and only because I transcode and install MY music manually from my Mac, from my home music server, to my iPhone. The HomePod is basically an extension to Apple’s subscription Music service. It doesn’t really work without that service. Although I’ve battled internally with accepting this as the future, there’s simply no way that I can currently go for a subscription music service. I’m not well informed as to how the HomePod is selling for Apple, but the entire concept is such a deal-breaker to me simply because Apple 1. doesn’t support FLAC and 2. I can’t just play my music on its fancy pseudo smart speaker. In other worst-words, have I reached the the point of… I can’t give Apple my money?

Back to my current wondrous pseudo-audiophile setup. As far as glitches with Volumio, most have been caused by my fiddling around with settings thinking I could get more out of both the RPi and the HiFiBerry hardware. As usual, I was fiddling all for naught. In fact, after most recent update to version 2.692 at the end of 2019, things kinda went haywire. The update seems to have bricked the thing. Although the UI worked after the update, library access didn’t. There was also no HiFiBerry configuration in the “Playback Options”. The digital volume control only went from 0 to 100, which meant I had a few almost speaker exploding moments trying to figure things out. To save the day I did a factory restore which returned the system back to version 2.389 (which is from 2018). And get this. Maybe it’s my ears playing games, but the old software version sounds better than any of the updates. The UI isn’t as clean and there are few add-ons that are no longer available, but I’m good with that on account it seems to sound as good as ever when playing Bowie, Beethoven or the friggin Bee-Gees. I love it–glitches n’all.

If you can, and you like good audio, get yourself one of these, dear worst-reader.

RPi2B + HiFiBerry DAC Pro + Plex Client

This thing has been working like a charm since day one. Ok. Wait. It ain’t all roses here. I need to hard restart it every once-a-once. My guess is it freezes up because of memory cache issues, or the like. But that’s no big deal on account it reboots quickly. After almost three years of consistent use, though, and considering the price of this thing, like the Volumio device above, all worst-readers (of age) should use one of these things as a media player.

By-the-buy, it’s connected to an old Sony 1080p flatscreen. Controlling it is done mostly by using the Sony remote and HDMI-CEC. It’s like a TV but on steroids, baby. Keep in mind that we have no broadcast TV in our home. We just use Plex, an AppleTV3, which also gives us Amazon Prime, and, as previously mentioned, Volumio. Anywho. Sometimes I’ll use the iPhone app to control this Plex client but, like most tech stuff with any lifespan these days, Plex has gotten a bit complicated and it’s easier to just use the cheap Sony remote to control it.

This is my go-to device if you have or want a home media player that’s as simple as eating pie–and not baking it–and don’t want to rely solely on AppleTV or any other streaming box, let alone rely on krappy broadcast TV. Although it can do things like photos, I’ve never used it for that as I just use Apple’s Photo app along with a few iOS devices. And get this. Since this Plex client works so well, I’ve put off getting a new Apple TV even though the newer ones are capable of running a Plex client. The thing is, I love the RPi + HiFiBerry DAC as a music player as much as I love the Volumio player (RPi + Hifiberry Amp2) that I use downstairs (as previously mentioned). As far as I’m concerned, as a cheap audiophile, the sound of these things in combination with my TEAC amp is darn tooting’ good. Nuff said, baby.

Oh. By-the-buy. Again. The difference between Volumio and Plex, as far as audio is concerned, is that Volumio works headless. Although I’ve read that Plex can be used headless, I don’t quite get the point of doing that since it is being used with a flatscreen. So. Indeed. Again-again. Even though Plex is getting unnecessarily complex, these devices are so cheap, why doesn’t everyone have one? Oh yeah. The tech stuff. Flashing an SD card, etc., etc. Speaking of tech stuff…

Pine64 Rock64

I use the Pine64 Rock64 device as a test device as I’ve not quite found a steady digital purpose for it. It’s been a pihole adblocker, a Volumio tester, a distro fun-maker, etc. Unfortunately for Pine64, the Rock64 and RockPro64 (below) might be the last devices I buy from these guys. Although the the boards are excellent, they are a bit too techi for me, unlike Raspberry Pi. I’ve been battling with software installs, distros, etc. since day one with these things, which is mega disappointing. Right now, the only software that I’ve found to work is DietPi and whatever I can install from that–but that doesn’t always work without tech tweaking that is usually over my head. Yeah, these things are my SBC disappointment. That said, I still kinda recommend them.

Pine64 RockPro64 + DietPi

Even though I’ve been disappointed with the software available for Pine64 devices, I’m kinda tickled with the RockPro64’s server performance–and my ability to actually get it to function. It has been quite a fight, don’t you know. Remember: this thing replaced a 2010 MacPro (the cheese grader) but there have been moments… What saved it from the dung-heap? The minimalist Linux distro known as DietPi. If you’re a newbie and not afeared of a bit of Linux CLI, this is my distro recommendation for the RockPro64 as a do-everything linux server. It works ALMOST like a charm. So far it has been running as a Plex server, a samba server (for my household Macs) and I’m even using it as a ad-blocker (pihole). Heck, I even installed a WordPress install on it so as to maintain a copy of this blog. Indeed. For the past 18 months or so it’s never crashed once. Whaaaaaaa?

The most disappointing thing from Pine64 is the fact that I have yet to get OMV to work. OMV is an open source NAS system that is supposed to emulate and/or compete with those stupid-expensive NAS boxes, aka Synology, Drobo, etc., which I refuse to buy. The problem is–as with most software I’ve tried on Pine64–I couldn’t get OMV to work. It would boot, I could access it via my network, I could dabble here or there with it. But as soon as I started messing with “shares” or add-ons (like Plex), it was crash time galore. Now that I’ve kinda gotten use to the CLI of DietPi, I’m not even watching out if OMV gets out of beta for this thing. The heck with it. DietPi works–and I’ve learned to live with a basic Samba file server! All in all, this home server project has turned into a reliable home media and file server device–that has, again, replaced at 2010 Mac Pro. Whaaaaaa?

Indeed. All is good in the land of the SBC, glitches n’all.

Rant on.

-T

PS Oh yea. I started this worst-post ranting about having two too many SBCs. So get this. Waiting in the wings for some purpose is another RPi3 and for Xmas 2019 I received the new RPi4. I’m considering the RPi3 for another audio project, perhaps with something other than analog audio outputs. The RPi4 is a different story. Currently the RPi4 is my Raspbian Linux training station which I use headless. It has already proven that there is no need to buy any other SBC again. (Sorry about that Pine64.) The RPi4 is finally a fcuking great little computer. Needless to say, I’m excited about fiddling with it as 2020 progresses.

First RPi4

rpi4

Thought I was gonna wait a bit longer, dear worst-reader. You know, being the never-buy first iteration consume-to-survive guy that I am, at the least, I was gonna put off getting this till the thermal problems were dealt with in version 2.0. But then it was required of me for Xmas that I post some sort of wish list–at the last minute, don’t you know. Which raises this worst-question: What does a man who already has everything wish for? Especially when such a rational thinking man (worst-moi) wishes he could wish for that used ten metre sailing yacht that’s just waiting for me on the baltic shores.

Screenshot 2020-01-04 at 19.33.37.png

Or perhaps there’s that thought or three that been lingering with me for sometime now about getting back into motorcylces. You know, motorcycles for old guys. I’m really digging Kawasaki’s W800 retro bike. Although I think it’s priced a bit high considering the cost of an Enfield. Also. Considering western world demographics, there’s plenty of new old guy motorcycles on the market these days. Am I wrong?

Screenshot 2020-01-04 at 19.37.45

Anywho. Other than a pair of gloves that also work with touch screen interfaces (iPhone, Apple Watch), the only other wish I could came up with (again, at the last minute, at the behest of my better half), which was on the tip of my tongue, was a Raspberry Pi 4 w/4GB–including case. Lo and behold, my better half delivered–on the RPi. (Or was it Santa Claus?) The case my better half ordered wasn’t up to worst-writer specs, though. She ordered a case that included some cheap cooling fan. It’s also some kind of push-together plastic case. Cheap, push together stuff a big turn off, eh.  Although I think I’ll keep the case for future RPi4 orders, on account it’s so cheap, I’m gonna fiddle with the new RPi4 first without a fan. And so. I ordered the FLIRC aluminium case, which has some pretty good reviews and, because of its design, seems to circumvent the need for a cooling fan.

All in all, so far, I’ve been impressed with the new Pi.

Let’s run down the issues after first few days of use and some minor testing, shall we.

Pros

  • Fast, fast, fast
  • Finally can boot and run Raspbian via VNC without obnoxious lag on client machine (this Mac)
  • USB-C power socket, finally away from flimsy mini-usb power (see con below)
  • Networking feels fast and sure (wifi and ethernet)
  • USB 3 provides great speed making this a definite alternative to the non-NAS I’ve been working on in 2019 that has also left me disappointed (on account of Pine64 software offering)

Cons

  • It’s un-understandable why there are two obnoxious Mini HDMI ports that are so non-backward compatible (since this is a cheap alternative to expensive PCs and NAS devices, why over do it with these connections???)
  • Mini hdmi does not work with (my) 1080p Dell monitor via display port > hdmi adapter, which means I have to order yet another adapter to try and connect it via DVI
  • USB-C power socket feels flimsy and probably won’t last a bunch of in-out connections
  • Heat – the FLIRC alu-case gets surprisingly warm even with my minor testing

Rant on.

-T

Pine64 Taking The Lead For Home Digital Storage Galore?

This is kind of an update to here and maybe here.

This is also kind of a battle, dear worst-reader. If you haven’t worst-guessed by now, it’s between worst-moi, Raspberry Pi and Pine64–all at the level of SBCs, baby. That is, for the moment, Pine64 is winning my non-NAS NAS competition. Or. How does one build a solid home digital storage thingy without having to buy one of them overpriced and over complicated glorified HDD enclosures, aka Synology, Drobo, etc., that suck bat balls? And so…

At the least, dear worst-reader, I’ve surpassed yet another threshold (or is it milestone?) of success-failure in my quest to avoid the NAS industry. You know, avoid paying stupid money to those over-rated, under-powered hard-drive bays that somehow have their own operating system and are only accessible via SSH where storing large amounts of old school data have become the bugs and whistles of gimme-gotcha. Oh wait. I’m getting kind of redundant. Move on.

The original worst-idear was to have a place for all my digital files but get rid of all the old hardware and thereby rely on Raspberry Pi. At the same confused time, I wanted to rid myself of the complication of GUI based NAS krapp, don’t you know. The only problem is, once you start transferring data, especially terabytes of data, the greatness of the R-Pi… bogs down real, real quick. That’s not to say I’m outta love for/with R-Pi. Currently the two (out of three) R-Pi’s I have running are clients for media–and they work great. For a while there I thought my taking a chance with Pine64 might not pay off on account I couldn’t get either the Rock64 or RockPro64 to do what I was hoping they’d do–as in, you know, work great like R-Pi. And then came the R-Pi4 with its faster data transfer speeds. Oh my. Moving on.

I knew by 2016-2017, in order for worst-moi to build a non-NAS NAS, gigabyte ethernet is the key. Lo and behold, R-Pi finally came out with worthwhile ethernet speeds but I’m still waiting for them to work out the kinks R-Pi4. Of course, I’d already bought into Pine64 and their SBC offering, naively unaware of software issues. Indeed. If only software would work on Pine64–managed by novice computer geeks. And so. The other day, after painstaking lazy-learning more and more about DietPi, I finally figured out how to set up not only the internal HDDs of my Pine64 NAS case but also an external drive bay (see pic above) that houses four of my old drives.

The result is I’m tickled to death. Not only does the Pine64 RockPro64 finally rock my world as a Plex media server but it’s also a great and simple Samba server with those four drives–add to that it’s got USB3! Now I can access all those old drives on my home network–with speed, baby. For shits & giggles, to test USB3, I copied my Music file library from the internal HDDs of the Pine64 NAS case to one of the drives in the external 4-bay case. Just under 1TB of data was copied in about 40min. That’s pretty good considering the same via R-Pi and USB2 would take almost a half a day. For the first time since fiddling with SBC as a replacement for all my old hardware (Macs, which I sold in January of 2019), I’m finally out of the world of PCs as trucks. Hardware in my digital world is now down to a few devices plus a great and so far stable cheap digital storage solution, including a great media server. Yeah, I’m tickled to death.

Since I’m a novice computer geek, I should also add that it’s taken me most of 2019, on and off, to be able to setup this system. Keep in mind, part of that time has been waiting patiently for a stable version of OMV for the RockPro64. But I’ve been shit-outta-luck, don’t you know. Even the Rock64, the RockPro64’s little SBC brother, doesn’t have what I would consider a stable version of OMV. So while I was hacking around with trying to get OMV to work on the RockPro64, in the interim I always relied on R-Pi and OMV to access all my drives. But. Again. The data transfer speeds were/are awful. Anywho.

The only stable software (system) I’ve got to work on the RockPro64 has been DietPi. Granted, I’ve only tried OMV and DietPi, although once I tried a Ubuntu but felt as though it was too much (as in: too much software). Also. Half the effort of getting DietPi to work has been relearning the CLI (command line interface). Indeed. Even after all these months, I’m still reliant on the google-machine to be able to do anything CLI. Yet I’ve avoided any graphical interface access like the plague. Again, that has something to do with SBC minimalism, I suppose, which I’ve kinda enjoyed since discovering R-Pi so many years ago. Aynwho.

Plex media server setup is a piece of cake because once installed, you access it using a web interface. I’ve been running Plex for about six months now and it’s worked without flaw. I have had issues requiring a restart of my R-Pi Plex client, though. But that’s no big deal. The real challenge came with setting up and configuring Samba shares for network access. Here I needed to access a share (a folder on a drive) with my R-Pi and Hifiberry Amp+2, which is currently my favourite audio player. The more and more I fiddled with this, the more convinced I became that OMV was probably not going to be necessary after all. I finally had hardware with fast networking capability but I could never get OMV to work properly on the Pine64 devices. I’m sure that has something to do with the software not getting out of beta, as indicated here. Back to Samba.

Even though I was able to setup one Samba share, I couldn’t figure out how to add more shares. My hat is off to DietPi for making this so simple–even though I spent countless hours trying to get the configuration code in the smb.confg file right. A break through came the other day once I figured out that all I had to do was copy and paste the [Share] code in the smb.confg file and then just add the correct [path =] and a new name. Boom, baby!

Now that I’ve got network access to my entire system with much better data transfer speeds, I’m no longer interested in the complexity of OMV. I certainly didn’t see that one coming. I really thought OMV would be the one compromise I’d have to make to my non-NAS NAS digital storage solution. You know, since OMV is pretty much NAS software. Again. Anywho.

Rant on–and network on, baby.

-T

Pi Beats Rock In A Big Way

r-pi 3b+
My ersatz R-Pi3b+ used for testing and fiddling, baby.

Subtitle: Thoughts on new Raspberry Pi 4

Been posting a few things here or there regarding my SBC journey, dear worst-reader. And what a journey it’s been. It all started a few years back with the Raspberry Pi. Wow, I thought after initially fiddling with an R-Pi 2. This sort of thing could finally allow me to move away from the monolithic PC/Mac world that has been a thorn in my side since the advent of cloud computing, subscription software and, of course, corporate/strategic hardware obsoletism running amok. Even though I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford whatever hardware I want, I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to my personal digital world. Perhaps that’s a bit of contradiction considering up to late last year my digital household consisted of numerous Macs, which I ended up selling to the highest bidder so that I could reduce things. I simply wanted to reduce my hardware portfolio but at the same time maintain all the files accumulated with that hardware over the last ten to fifteen years. Raspberry Pi and SBCs have been my enablers, don’t you know.

There was one problem with the Pi, though. It was just too slow to fill the shoes of my 2010 MacPro. Every time I went into my basement and heard the roar of that old cheese-grader running twenty-four-seven and/or waiting and waiting for it to copy/backup files, my head would ache. Having fiddled with Linux, OMV and various distros on the R-Pi, I eventually realised that maintaining all my data no longer needed the oomph of a MacPro. So I waited for when/if the R-Pi could deliver more/enough bandwidth. In early 2018, out of patience waiting for an R-Pi 4, I turned to Pine64. After a few weeks of reading and research I splurged on a Pine64 Rock64 SBC. Even though there are numerous SBCs on the market, I chose the Rock64 because of its power source and the fact that it has gigabyte ethernet. The power source was important because I had a few issues with R-Pi and its micro-usb power source. This made me invest in purchasing dedicated micro-usb power sources for the two R-Pi’s that I use as media clients. Gigabyte speed is a no-brainer considering the extreme limitation of transferring files with the R-Pi’s USB 2 dependencies.

After fiddling with the Rock64, though, I faced a new reality. Although I really like what Pine64 is doing, there simply is no comparison to the R-Pi when it comes to functional software. I should also add, although I can do some top-level Linux work, pretty much everything below that is too much (tech) for worst-moi. It took till April of 2019 that I was finally able get my Rock64 running OMV to the point where I no longer have to struggle with it as my main network storage device.

Ok. Ok. If you’ve read any of my other SBC posts, I apologise if I’m being a bit repetitive here. The thing is, while on vacation on the Baltic Sea in Northern Germania last week, I was blown away by the news that–out of nowhere–the R-Pi 4 had been released. Holy krapp, I thought. I just spent almost a year finally getting my two Pine64 devices–a Rock64 for files and a RockPro64 for as a Plex media server–up and running where they’ve easily replaced my 2010 MacPro and now R-Pi is dangling not just new candy in front of me but bombshell candy. Holy double krapp, baby!

Needless to worst-say, I spent a few hours while on vacation reading and researching what R-Pi is up to. Am I impressed? You bet I am. But hold on to your lug nuts, dear worst-reader. Am I about to relegate my Pine64 devices to the bin? Not quite. As with most new tech, I rarely buy first iteration hardware, although the Rock64 is kinda first gen. Of course, the new R-Pi 4 is more than just an upgrade. The specs are mind boggling–at least they are for how I would use it. It’s exactly what I naively lost patience waiting for last year. Oh well.

That worst-said, I’m really digging what I got working/running with Pine64 right now. I also still dig the Pine64 (NAS) case and PCIe SATA card because it’s allowed me to utilise all those HDDs lying around thereby saving me a ton of money not having to upgrade my mass storage situation left over after selling the MacPro. Also, having discovered DietPi on both devices, my digital household has been zinging along without flaw. Which begs an answer to an obvious question: Uh, heck yeah, I will probably be in a bind (with Pine64) when R-Pi delivers their next version of their new monster SBC. Then again, maybe not. The Pine64 case is still waaaay cool!

Rant (and tech) on.

-T

Link that motivated this post:

Network Station Galore In Pine64 Heaven

network station rock64 rockpro64 etc.png
Network station galore, baby.

And yet another update is here.

UPDATE (to this post): The Rock64 with 4-bay drive enclosure (the gadgets on the left in the pic above) failed the other day. That means, this entire post is null & void. Oh how I wanted the Rock64 (from Pine64) to succeed. But I suppose, for tech newbie/wannabees like me, I’m barking up the wrong tree here. At least the RockPro64 (black box on the right), as a dietpi//Samba/Plex/Pihole server hasn’t yet failed me! That said, I can’t get the Rock64, either using OMV or Dietpi, to just work the way I want it to work. I’m soooo disappointed, don’t you know. Or maybe not. Although I’ll go ahead and leave this post–it’d be a shame to waste all the worst-writing–I’m pretty much done with Pine64 products, especially since a new RPi4 just came out. Oh well. I guess this level of tinkering is fun while it lasts. Or maybe not.

Subtitle 1: Avoiding, circumventing an industry hell-bent on the grand rip-off?

Subtitle 2: In a world of trucks or no trucks, SBC’s rule, biatch!

If you want to skip all my worst-writing about Apple and Trucks, scroll down to it’s a network station galore, baby.

To begin this worst-post, dear worst-reader, I have to express a word or three about trucks. Do you remember that schtick from Steve Jobs about the post-PC era (ca. 2012-13)? As usual, I ate it up. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly eat it up. But I certainly heeded the words of the tech-guru who changed the friggin’ world twice! (1984 with the Macintosh and then again in 2007 with the iPhone.) I mean, even though I’m not a tablet guy (yet), as in, I can’t give up on a real computer, the change that’s being forced upon us consume-to-survivors, especially in all-things tech, is too often in my thoughts. After purchasing earlier this year what might be my last Mac, the question I’m currently dealing with is this: does my tech future include Apple?

One of the questions I’m throwing around in my head is if/when I have to replace yet another device due to strategic, monolithic, corporate obsoletism, what will/should I replace it with? Even though I love my new, retail-bought 2017 MacBook (jewellery galore, eh), there’s something about the tech path that Apple’s taken in recent years that gets under my gander. The truth is: not only do I hate tech-jewellery but I also hate touch screens. (And don’t laugh too hard since my new MacBook is pink-gold.) I mean, I really hate touch screens. (But this pink-gold is growing on me.) In fact, I hate touch screens as much as I hate NAS boxes. Of course, I tolerate touch screens on my iPhone. I even still use a first gen iPad Air (that I inherited from my better-half as she’s full-on iOS) as an e-book reader and a streaming client for Plex, Amazon Prime and YouTube–the latter while I’m in the kitchen cooking. But get this! To throw things into a craze-loop, what does Apple go and do at its 2019 WWDC that confused the hell out of me–especially considering I vividly remember Jobs’ truck analogy–that I ate up? That’s right. Apple brings back the friggin’ truck. And it doesn’t bring it back slightly with, say, a tickle and a smooch. No. It brings those friggin’ trucks back with a vengeance in the form a new, über-fancy, über-über expensive cheese-grater MacPro. WTF!

So let’s recap, shall we?

Steve Jobs claimed back in 2013 (see links below) that the PC was dead. Long live the post-PC era. The gist of his proclamation is simple. We (consumers) don’t need PCs (trucks) anymore. What we need are tablets. I suppose, in a way, he was right. Right, don’t you know, for other people, of course. Me? If I choose to leave Apple after I’m done with my latest MacBook, I’m either going to join the gang and get an iPad (but only if I can accompany it with a MacMini) or I’m going full Linux. Indeed. I’m seriously digging what System76 is doing right now–even though they don’t, as of this worst-post, have a laptop with a German keyboard. (That’s right. I can only speed-worst-type with a German QWERTZ keyboard!) But that’s not all, dear worst-reader, that relates to Apple contradicting its dead hero. The Steve Jobs truck proclamation was about a few things other than just PCs. Wasn’t that also around the time when cloud-computing was getting its mojo on? You know, there’s no need to have a big (truck) PC for storing your files and data anymore cause, well, you can conveniently store it all on well-controlled corporate servers… in the cloud. Now ain’t that the ticket! (Sarcasm off.) Don’t get me wrong here. I’m using the cloud. But should it be the solution for future private data needs?

Before I get too far off worst-subject and get too far on about the conspiracy of corporate control over private data–which is all cloud computing is, really–there is one other thing that has gotten under my gander in this very confused post-PC, corporate control, krapp-touch-screen era. As I’ve said here, here and here, I hate the NAS industry. And don’t get me started on RAID (Synology, Drobo & Co., etc.) and how krappy that is. I mean, come on. With the cost of digital storage these days, why would anyone want/need to fiddle with the added ill-begotten complexity of things like RAID dished out in machines that are built to substandard, if not outdated hardware specs? For you RAID lovers out there, don’t fret. I get why you may (or may not) need it. But I remember RAID when it began. Then it was either about increased data speed or subverting the high cost of HDDs. So let’s move on.

It was a motivating factor for me to modernise a bit so I could 1) free myself and 2) live a little. Plus, I guess, I wanted some jewellery! (Sarcasm off.) The other reason I wanted to get rid of ageing hardware wasn’t because it didn’t work or anything like that. Apple computers are great even when they’re old. In fact, my old stuff ran flawlessly–and I’m sure the nice folk that bought it all will be happy with it for years to come. By-the-buy, that old friggin’ MacPro worked even when I took it with me to Bangelore, India, in 2016, where–get this!–the power went out ten times a day for the six months I lived there. With every power outage (surge?) that damn MacPro turned itself right back on and on and on. I never had one hardware issue with it. But enough about spilt milk, eh. It’s time to clean things up.

The main reason I got rid of the MacPro was because I was tired of maintaining large amounts of data (yes, for me, 3.5TB is large) on a device that needed days to move or copy it. Over the years, as stated, I’ve never had any major problems with Apple hardware but I have lost a few hard drives here and there–and the data that was on them. Indeed. The days of ripping, hoarding, maintaining multiple hard drives and waiting for terabytes of data to backup or copy are over. I’m tired of it. So it was time to prioritise, organise, get rid of the hardware, keep the data, see how it goes. And so. My personal data was about 1TB, including paper correspondence*. Media data is about 3.5TB. Since, as you can tell, I’m kinda frugal and cheap, if not bored of hardware, there was no way I was gonna invest in upping my data bandwidth or capacity. Fcuk thunderbolt & Co., and the same for 3.5″ HDDs, don’t you know!

Most of my personal files and data (1TB) was a rigamarole of duplicates and excess of worst-writing, employment data, official correspondence, etc., and I needed to dive into shark waters to clean it up. Indeed. Over a few months I weeded through it all and got it organised. I discarded all excess. And get this. It’s amazing, when you put the effort into it, to realise, like in the analog world, how much waste there is in the/your digital life. That worst-said, you’d be surprised how much digital AND analog space you can save if you put a bit of effort into getting organised–as opposed to just hoarding it all in the name of cheap HDDs that build up over the years. I was able to reduce that 1TB of personal data down to about 250GB, an amount that is easily maintainable considering the price and accessibility of portable (non spinning drive) storage. On top of that, I’m also using multiple and cheap 2.5 inch (yes, still spinning) external HDDs with TimeMachine for my remaining (2x) Macs. (At one point till mid 2018 I had five Macs running in my house.) Ok. Ok. My personal data is organised. What do I do with 3.5TB of media that I’d still like to stream–in my home media setup?

It’s a network station galore, baby. It’s not a NAS!

It’s taken a while, dear worst-reader. About two years, to be exact. Which also means I’m a bit slow (in more things than just tech). Nomatter. Starting with the genius of Raspberry Pi, I currently solely rely on single-board-computers (SBC) for all my personal home network activity, including household media streaming and, where applicable, extra data storage. With that in mind, what I’m doing here I also take with a grain of salt. I do not rely solely on this setup as a means for securing my data. Of all the old hardware that I sold late last year as a way to reduce my personal digital footprint, which was really about replacing too much old with a bit of new, this is where I’ve arrived–and it’s starting to look rosier and rosier. In fact,  I’m getting more and more confidant, if all continues as it has, I will be able to heed my PC-truck-age cries: to never buy one of those stupid, fake-priced NAS boxes, e.g. Drobo, Synology, etc., that I love to hate. And. Since. Apple has contradicted its Master, let me just add: Trucks are $hit, too!

My network station setup. (Did I mention it’s not a NAS?)

In the pic above, I finally got my Rock64 (far left), that I bought in mid 2018, running OpenMediaVault (OMV). Using USB 3.0, it’s attached to my most recent thrifty purchase, an IcyBox JBOD 4-bay HDD enclosure. I got that enclosure for about 50,-€ used. It’s Stocked with 2x 2TB, 1x 3TB and 1x4TB drives, which are most of the drives left over after getting rid of old hardware. As far as OMV on the Rock64 goes, you can forget the ease–due to the variety of functional software–of R-Pi’s. These Pine64 SBC’s take a bit more effort, don’t you know–especially considering, what should be a staple on it, OMV, should work toot-sweet, even with a novice like me is at the helm. Anywho.

Rock64, baby.

My choice for a file server is OpenMediaVault. It’s worked well on the R-Pi, albeit slow and hence the reason to go with the Rock64 (which has gigabyte ethernet). After numerous tries with both release and pre-release from Ayufan, I could never get OMV to work on the Rock64. Although it would be recognised on my network, once I started configuring shares, it all fell apart. Frustrated that no OMV Rock64 builds were ready–and I’ve been fiddling with them for six or so months–I gathered one of my spare R-Pi’s (far left in the pic) to give it a go–slow bandwidth be damned. Just before flashing the R-Pi’s SD-card,  though, I did another quick search for a different Rock64 OMV build. Lo and behold, I found a build via the OMV website here. I flashed the SD-card and boom, baby. Immediately the look and feel of the build was spot on. Not only that, I was able to access all the drives of the external JBOD enclosure and set up shares. It’s been purring–with gigabyte ethernet!!!–on my network ever since.

Media = RockPro64 + Dietpi.

On the far right of the pic above is my RockPro64 in its fancy-pants Pine64 NAS case. It has a PCIe sata card and 2x 3TB HDDs. It’s been my trusty Plex media server for the past six months where I am able to store and serve my old 3.5TB of media data–as good if not better than my old MacPro. Just like the Rock64, though, it was a rough start with the RockPro64. I could never get OMV to work on it which was a big disappointment. The RockPro64 sat on my shelf because of that for a few months. Again, although the R-Pi’s are stable and are much easier to setup, there is that bandwidth limitation they have with ethernet and USB, the two being combined on the USB 2.0 bus. Nomatter.

So I kept fiddling around with various other builds for the RockPro64 till I finally discovered DietPi. And don’t you know, DietPi has been the best solution so far turning the RockPro64 into an amazing media server. Although it took of bit of effort to get back into the cryptic, command line interface of DietPi, I’ve since come to think of it as fun-time whenever I have to do anything with the RockPro64. DietPi has done a great job of creating a really friendly but also minimal build that is loaded with software that all seems to work–except, of course, OMV. But that’s neither here nor that at this point. Not only does Plex run great but I’m also running Pi-hole, to rid my home network of all those stupid and obnoxious internet ads, a WordPress iteration (that I use to experiment with) and, using a single Samba share, the RockPro64 serves various R-Pi audio devices in my house that all run Volumio. I’ve not yet begun to find all the RockPro64’s fun. Yeah, baby.

The stuff in-between.

Also included in the pic above is what remains of some old but functional hardware. As you can see, I’m still an Apple Airport fan. In fact, this is my third Apple Airport still in use. I use these devices for all my WIFI thereby turning off the WIFI from those krapp routers issued by ISPs. On my top floor I have an Airport Express that serves two bedrooms and a bath. For the ground floor, living room, kitchen, atrium and our master bedroom, is a newer AirPort Extreme. The older Airport Extreme (pic above) is in my basement and still provides great bandwidth when I’m ironing, working on my bikes, or just hiding from my better half and Beckett, the killer pug. In fact, I might even buy a fourth, newer AirPort Extreme in the future to replace the Airport Express upstairs. Even though Apple has cancelled these excellent routers, I’m gonna use them till the cows come running. By-the-buy, this one also serves as second TimeMachine. You see that HDD underneath it? That is an Iomega 2TB Firewire, USB 2.0 and USB powered hub HDD. It’s gotta be over ten years old now. I know. I know. I’m waiting for it to fail, too. But it just keeps going and going and going. But don’t worry, dear worst-reader. As stated, I’ve got more than two TimeMachine backups. So we’re all good there. (I hope!)

The other HDD case (the black case to the left of the AirPort Extreme) is a 2-bay IcyBox raid enclosure. I’m not sure how old it is–but I’ve had it for a long time. It has 2x 2TB drives in raid-0, i.e. 4TB. Although I rarely use it anymore, it does have some old data on it–none of which is unique. Once I get the Rock64/OMV to meet a few more criteria for file serving, I’ll transfer all that old data to it and then retire it, salvaging the HDDs for other use.

As far as being thrifty and rebelling against an industry hell-bent on ripping us off, also being able to re-use stuff that shouldn’t be made obsolete, the cost for the SBC’s mentioned in this post, is under €300,-€. Obviously, it takes lots of time and effort to get this thing up and running and I’m sure most working-stiffs out there don’t have the time for such endeavours. For tech gurus this is a nothing-burger. With that in mind, I’m kinda joyous right now. I’ve really had fun getting back into CLI, Linux and taking some of my fate into my own hands. Kinda rewarding, don’t you know. Or. Put another way:

This has been PRICELESS, baby.

Ok. Nuff for now.

Rant (and Rock64) on, baby.

-T

Links:

*For worst-moi paper correspondence is all that snail-mail krapp you get, some of which can also be kind of important, that requires space. Sick of having to provide space for it, a few years ago I purchased one of them fancy-pants document scanners (only documents, NOT one of them stupid scanner-printer thingies that have been ripping people off for decades). I digitise all important snail-mail and store it appropriately. The remaining paper gets shredded and recycled, of course.

Pseudo-Review: DietPi And RockPro64

 

Subtitle: Avoiding monolithic-monopoly personal computing on the cheap?

Follow-up is here.

Note on text: if you want to skip all my worst-writing, just scroll down to the The Pseudo Review.

As noted here, I’m not a NAS fan. The problem with not being a NAS fan is that one may still require some form of home data storage. But where to turn? Remember those days of ripping CDs, DVDs/Blurays, etc.? What to do with all that data? Even if you’re no longer into ripping stuff, there is a need to not lose all that has been ripped. Or?

A few years back I realised that my ripping days were over. I haven’t ripped a CD in years. Other than online (and free) internet-radio, I don’t consume music anymore either. If I watch a movie or a TV show, I do so by either Amazon Prime or I rent something with AppleTV. (That’s right, I don’t use Netflix and I also do not watch cable or satellite TV!) That means, the only requirement I have for home data storage is being able to back up my Macs and figuring out what to do with all my old data. For my Macs the solution is easy. I rely on multiple TimeMachine iterations. Btw, after getting rid of my Mac collection in late 2018, which consisted of a MacPro, 2x MacMini, a MacBook Air and a 12″ MacBook, I’m now down to 2x 12″ MacBooks, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Btw, as a writer, I highly recommend the 12″ MacBook–butterfly keyboard n’all. It is, in fact, my daily driver. Obviously if you’re into video production the 12″ MacBooks is a no-go. For everything else, as I took the chance to figure out for myself, Apple’s smallest, lightest, minuscule-ness and perhaps slowest PC… is a blast! And so, my wife uses the 2016 MacBook connected to a 24″ screen as her personal desktop device which replaced her 2010 MacMini. FYI, her main personal comuting driver is an iPad Pro. But I digress.

It was after fiddling around with my wife’s 2016 MacBook–which she bought on a whim after we returned from India in 2016–that something clicked with me. And be warned: when we entered the Apple store that day to get her a new Mac, it had never crossed my mind to buy the 12″ MacBook. I was trying to steer her to a low-end iMac. But you know how the women-folk are these days, eh worst-reader? You know, they be all emancipated and stuff. The only contribution I got to make about her new Mac purchase, in the end, was that she didn’t buy the pink MacBook1. Here my thoughts on going full Apple über-expensive (pink) netbook for 2019. Anywho.

Each MacBook has it’s own external HDD which is connected as required plus there is a TimeMachine HDD connected to an AirPort Extreme in the basement accessible by our home network. I can’t tell you what a relief it is having gotten rid of all those ageing Macs, but more importantly having gotten rid of the burden of having to maintain them. Obviously–or as usual–Steve Jobs was right when he initiated the post-PC era–with his comment–even though I don’t agree with it 100%–that tablets are cars and PCs are trucks. The thing is, I’ve never been sold on tablets replacing PCs. I’m also all-in on laptop makers trying to compete with desktop. More importantly, I’m not sold at all on touch screens. No. I need a keyboard. There is obviously a burden to be shouldered in the future of PCs but that’s mostly due to a monopolised and monolithic tech industry–that Apple will hopefully threaten if it ever gets around to having ARM as processors on its Macs. But, once again, I’m off subject.

The minimalist design, ports, weight, etc., of the MacBook has in part lead to my acquiescence and further delayed my having to consider going tablet. Although I can see the future is about touch-screen devices, the MacBook I’m using to worst-type this post, might just be my last Mac. Indeed. The likes of System76 laptops is looking pretty sweet to me right now–even though I just paid twice the cost for a laptop (a 2017 12″ MacBook in pink) compared to the likes of what System76 is offering. So the only question that remains is this: can I give up the luxury of Mac? That’s a whole other worst-post, eh. Anywho–I’m still off subject.

Not only have I gotten rid of all those trucks but I’ve also consolidated my personal computing data requirements. I’ve even given in to Apple’s ill-engineering to remove things like an ethernet port, let alone modern I/O ports. In other worst-words, for my personal computing requirements, I’ve since learned that the amount of hardware I require is actually quite negligible. For don’t you know, dear worst-reader, I am a worst-typist (worst-writer), and the amount of hardware space to store year and years and years of worst-writing, just ain’t that much. In fact, in a pinch, I can get my life’s digital work onto a decent sized USB thumb-drive. As for other digital stuff, aka music, photos, movies, TV, etc., that’s another story. And here’s part of that story.

I don’t consider media stuff to be a priority in my digital life. As much as I don’t like subscription-based digital streaming (I prefer the pay as you go/view stuff), streaming is definitely the future. Hence the rigamarole of whether or not to invest stupid money into an over-priced multiple HDD system (NAS) which just adds more complications (i.e. truck krapp) to one’s life.

The Pseudo Review.

So it’s been a few months now since I’ve batted an eye or puckered an ear about avoiding NAS truck-dom and/or monopoly-monolithic über-expensive personal computing krapp. It turns out that my skepticism/cynicism was/is warranted. As of fall 2018, I’ve resorted to other means of storing twenty years of music and movies and TV–and thereby separating personal data from media2. Obviously what I’m doing is not as convenient as a NAS but at least I’m NOT having to give more stupid-money away to monopoly-monolithic tech companies. Also. The whole fiddling and figuring-out process has been (kinda) fun. And so, here’s the solution I’m currently using in order to avoid monopoly-monoliths…

  • RockPro64 (4GB/MicroSD/Sata-card)
  • Pine64 NAS Case
  • 2x 3TB HDD
  • DietPi

Initially, and based on positive experience with Raspberry Pi, I fiddled around with OMV on the RockPro64, more on that here. Unfortunately OMV doesn’t work. I’m regularly checking here to see if/when it gets out of beta. That’s kind of a shame, really, on account I liked the way OMV worked on the Raspberry Pi. The only problem was/is, the RPi couldn’t stream to my home network using Plex. As a pure file server, though, OMV on the RPi worked flawlessly.

After a few initial difficulties with the RockPro64 and its fancy-pants NAS case3, I finally got it all together and working. As far as my choice of software, I’ve been happily surprised with DietPi. After a few weeks I not only got used to such a throw-back, if not archaic interface, I really started to dig DietPi. In fact, once you get used to it, DietPi isn’t as CLI/archaic as it may initially appear. It’s actually got a pretty neat and well thought-out interface, see pics above. Of course, if you like, you can just use the terminal and linux commands to do everything. I’m not a Linux command expert by and long stretch, so what DietPi has come up with has worked really well for me. The only issues I’ve had so far have been minor and require nothing more than a restart. So allow me to repeat: The thing to keep in mind is that I was looking for a way to avoid the bigshots and their overpriced krapp–and I found it.

As far as it being a server, you have to kind of piece together DietPi to get things to happen. Where OMV is a standalone server application that acts just like a NAS, DietPi is more like an operating system with various apps, some of which can be servers. I’m using Plex Media Server and Samba shares. I’ve also got a few other apps running, e.g. WordPress and Pi-hole. More on that in another worst-post. I have one RPi Plex client connected to my sound system and a flat screen TV. It’s where I watch all those old, ripped media files. I can also access it all via Plex apps on my Mac, an old iPad Air and and even my ageing iPhone 6s. So far the RockPro64 has been able to stream to multiple devices without issue. For audio I have two separate RPi’s running Volumio. I have a separate Samba share for audio files only. All in all, I’m able to stream movies, TV shows, and audio without issue to multiple devices. As far as backing up media from the RockPro64 and its internal HDDs, there’s a DietPi app to cover that, as well.

And let’s not forget the fun-factor in all this. The biggest thrill so far with being able to avoid sucking up to monolithic-monopolistic tech arsehole corporations is that OpenSource and SBCs (single board computer) have lead the way. The fact that I sold an old albeit still powerful 2010 MacPro (cheese grader Mac) with the idear that (but no proof it would work) I could replace it with an SBC, no longer seems absurd–as a lot of tech guys tried to tell me. At the least, personal computing doesn’t have to be as complicated and expensive as it has become simply because jerk-offs in the tech world have got nothing better to do than screw customers more and more. But what the hell do I know?

Rant on.

-T


  1. Indeed. I would be the one to buy it in pink. Laughs on me, uh? ↩︎
  2. For those interested: I utilise iCloud for photo backup, which is my only external backup source of photos. I have no other means to externally back up other media. I’m probably playing with fire but what the hell! ↩︎
  3. I had the following issues with the case: cheap SATA cables included with case are hard and stiff. In fact, I damaged PCIe adapter while trying to wire SATA cables internally. I used superglue to fix that damage. Once RockPro64 board and HDDs are installed, cables connected, etc., the only way to access board is to dismantle entire case. You also pretty much have to dismantle entire case to remove/change a HDD. Case designer(s) didn’t take into consideration access to MicroSD card. The only way to access the MicroSD card is with a pair of tweezers or very little fingers. Routing both SATA cables and power cables in case is extremely cumbersome. To make life easier and to prevent further damage, I purchased a set of thin, light, flexible SATA cables to replace the ones included with the case. ↩︎

NAS Hell – And Almost Part 2?

pine64-rockpro64-nas
Pine64 NAS Case and RockPro64 SBC.

A kinda update to this post is here.

As noted here and here, I’m having a bit of an ordeal with my home digital storage situation. In short, I’ve been trying to avoid having to purchase a NAS (network attached storage). Reason? Well, I hate stupid technology. To worst-moi, there is nothing more stupid than a monopolised industry trying to find more & better ways to rip-off consumers. But who or what is stupid in the case of over-priced hard-drives stuck in suck-cases with even suckier software? Well, in this case, I think the NAS industry is stupid. I mean. Come on. Because a NAS requires so much CPU power, due to their being pseudo-PCs, relegating the industry to being stuck in price-point-hell that, just like PCs, is also dependent on monopolies (e.g. Intel), manufacturers have chosen the cheapest possible route for making HDD enclosures masked as über smart drive bays. Yeah, that’s the NAS industry in a nutshell, don’t you know. Or am I the only one to have this sort of perspective? For example. Just have a look at the vastness of stuff out there regarding how one can avoid having to buy over-priced bling-bling NAS devices. Enter the world of SBCs (single board computers). I, for one, have been following the SBC world for some time. To my surprise (and luck) the advancement of SBCs has been the main reason why I hate the NAS industry so much. As I’ve noted here, although the Raspberry Pi is a great solution for network storage–and a great solution for many other client/server needs–it is a very limiting device when it comes to NAS function. Still, the DIY NAS has taken on a life of its own. And that has to say more about the NAS industry than what I can worst-write about it. so I’ve been riding the SBC bandwagon with great hope. On the other hand, I have to give credit where it’s due. There is the whole issue of convenience that DIY sometimes just can’t deliver. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-flashed micro-sd cards, re-installed OpenMediaVault, changed from one Linux distro to another, etc., all to find out I installed a 4TB HDD into a USB2 case and for what ever reason linux can’t mount it. Or I’ve screwed this or that with either incorrectly installing software or fiddling too much with hardware. Non-the-less, the NAS industry has, I guess, lowered its prices somewhat since 2018, which means there is a an argument out there for wasting Euros in order to get some convenience. Or? In fact, I recently purchased a warehouse-deal NAS. It was a frustration purchase–cause I couldn’t get an RPi to be a Plex media server. Disappointed with the purchase, though, I subsequently sent it back after realising as a piece of hardware it was just as krappy as the limited performance of an RPi. That worst-said, yeah, I’d prefer the limited performance of a cheap SBC than the the limited performance of an overpriced drive-bay. Yeah. The warehouse purchase turned me off more than it turned me on. And on that note, let me die-gress.

A few days ago I finally gave up on yet another attempt at getting OpenMediaVault (OMV) to work on the RockPro64 SBC. I just can’t get the software to work. Here’s a short-list of the problems I had with this version (Stretch Armhf 0.7.9) of OMV:

  • couldn’t write more than 3TB of data on a 4TB disk
  • raid-0 setup (w/ two drives) didn’t work
  • ethernet connection was constantly failing
  • SMB shares were not properly recognised on my Mac
  • ditto with AFP shares
  • TimeMachine didn’t work
  • Plex very unstable and terribly slow
  • Update Manager always showed errors, etc., etc.

The thing is, I really wanted OMV to work. Even though the Raspberry Pi is the SBC that got me hooked on this stuff, more hardware power is needed. The RockPro64 is probably one of the best SBCs on the market right now for just such a task. At least it is according to hardware specs. I suppose in the near future they will get OMV to work on the RockPro64. But with all the tinkering I’ve had to do without any good results, enough is enough. Or? Wait. There’s something else I’ve learned of late. Maybe it’s time to start changing my point-of-view about home storage? I mean. I’ve got a half dozen or so HDDs lying around (after selling my old MacPro). I have three or four old powered USB cases, too. Since I’m a Mac fanboy, do I really want to do things like rely on foreign file systems to save my data? And what about the whole RAID-thing? The only time I’ve ever trusted or even relied on RAID is when I’m using an old USB2 dual-bay case that has hardware RAID-0 or RAID-1 onboard–and that thing ran Apple’s file system without issue. Do I really need a NAS–as I mistakingly, confusedly indicated in this post?

Answer: I don’t know. Or. Never say never?

Continuing the tinkering, I dumped OMV and re-installed DietPi on the RockPro64. Since I was able to format and copy my media files to 2x 3TB drives (but was not able to copy the same data to one 4TB drive!) using the previous OMV install, I put those drives into the Pine64 NAS Case. Btw, there were times with all this tinkering that I thought the power source (12v-5a) was not enough to power two 3.5″ HDDs in the Pine64 case. But that’s another post.

Rethinking my need for a NAS–or giving up on the whole idear–I decided to give DietPi another try. To get things started, and to keep things simple, I just installed Plex and thereby turned the RockPro64 into a media server. Long story short: it worked immediately. In fact, between testing Plex on an RPi 3b+ and the previous OMV-Plex install on the RockPro64, I could never stream any of my movies to either my Mac or one of two RPi’s I have as media clients. That was/is very frustrating because I know that these little SBC’s have aplenty to deliver. By-the-buy, my previous media server was an old Mac Pro–which I do not regret selling it. The reason for getting rid of something that worked–and thereby replacing it with stuff that might or might not work–was the simple fact that I wanted to simplify my life. I didn’t feel like maintaining the MacPro anymore. Full of drives it weight something like 30kg. Plus it’s an energy hog. But I’m off subject.

From the get-go, the RockPro64 with Plex Media Server worked like a charm. For the first time I was able to not only stream a movie to multiple devices, but I was also able to transcode an MKV blu-ray (ca. 30GB). To push it even further, I was able to play four different video streams on four devices. The fourth device did have a few hiccups, though. To say the least, three functioning streams is good enough for me. The thing is, I finally got something to work on these little computers and thereby taking full advantage of gigabyte ethernet and plenty of storage capacity–both of which are problematic with RPi. Of course, that all being said, I now don’t really have a household file storage solution. To deal with that, I think I’m gonna just return to my trusted Apple AirPort Extreme wifi routers with attached USB drives. They will suffice as second-level TimeMachine backups–until the itch hits me again to get a friggin NAS. First-level TM backups are with external HDDs attached to our Macs.

As of this worst-post, I’ve been constantly streaming my media library to my Mac, iPad and iPhone for about two days. Other than one or two hiccups, it works. I’ve also taken the liberty of turning the RockPro64 into a pi-hole DNS anti-ad server and I’ve installed a WordPress iteration where I hope to be able to have a local backup of this blog. If this holds up, the day might come where I don’t have to bitch & moan about hating the NAS industry anymore.

Rant on.

-T

Welcome To NAS Hell

Update to this post here.

Pseudo alternative subtitle: Years of digital living is hard to leave behind. But behind it must be left.

As mentioned here, I’ve been telling myself for years, and thereby avoiding a certain kind of reality, that I need a NAS (networked-attached-storage). Although I was able to circumvent having to own such a system till recently, after accumulating around four to six terabytes of personal data over the past twenty years, reality has crept in. Circumventing this need, by-the-buy, meant nothing more than instead of buying a NAS all these years, I just owned a bunch of computers. About three years ago, though, I started to cave-in. I was simply tired (and bored) of having to manage all the data on all those computers. Indeed. Three computers, multiple iPhones and iPads and lots of data confusion. Did I back that up, or this up, or what-up?

In order to protect all that data I habitually only trashed stuff I knew I didn’t need or could download again and again from the Interwebnets and then I maintained at least two copies of everything using TimeMachine. By-the-buy, I haven’t lost any data since a devastating disk failure about ten years ago. Since then I’ve lost several HDDs, though. That means, for each computer, I had at least two TimeMachine backups. But then there was all my media data. Since my media library was too big for any TimeMachine backup, I had to use separate HDDs to back it up.

And now for a short mute issue.

Of the three computers I owned, one was a massive 2010 MacPro. You know, the cheese-grader Mac. It was/is quite a machine. After about five to seven years, though, it really started to lose its lustre. Reason? It was useless as a desktop machine–compared to the agility of modern laptops–and it just didn’t cut it as a file server or NAS. I tried using Apple’s MacServer app with it to up its game, but that turned out to be nothing more than bloated and weird Apple dependent Krapp-software that screwed-up two of my HDDs with unix permissions! What I needed was a better and more flexible server that wasn’t all about Apple. I especially needed a way to serve SMB shares because I had long since chosen AGAINST Apple’s continued iTunes krapp and its subsequent Music streaming service. The most important thing I wanted was to be able to stream, on my home network, my personal digital music library to two different Raspberry Pi Hifiberry audio clients. And nomatter what I did, I couldn’t get that to happen with the Mac–unless I used iTunes.

Btw, iTunes sucks!

In its day, the MacPro was a great device. But, as Apple made it more and more obsolete, its graphic card was practically worthless when it was deployed in 2010, by 2015 it was a nightmare. Heck, I couldn’t even render 720p iPhone movie clips on it without wasting part of day waiting for it to finish. Long story short, it was not the do-everything server and headless Mac I was hoping it would be and it was definitely not a viable desktop machine anymore. Why keep it? So I sold it along with a MacMini, my trusted MacBook Air (i7), and gathered enough cash to pay most of the cost of an over-priced, jewellery-like netbook device known as a 2017 12″ MacBook. More on that here. Indeed. Part of getting rid of all that krapp was that I was just tired of how heavy it all felt. And boy is this new MacBook light!

Back to NAS hell.

Since round 2016 I had been looking for alternative hardware for my home network file management. Obviously one of them branded NAS devices was the only solution, right? Having used multi-bay hard-drive cases and even fiddling with a DroboFS a few years back–which I subsequently threw in the friggin trash on account it was so slow and cumbersome–I concluded that I would put off going that route for the foreseeable future. Indeed. That future has arrived. And get this: all those multi-bay hard-disk devices… they are all built like $hit and they all cost way too much. But then I came across some stuff on the Interwebnets and kept on reading and reading and reading. Enter my world of cheap SBCs. Soon one thing lead to another and since I already had a bunch of HDDs lying around, by 2017, I was an avid Raspberry Pi fiddler–as a means of subverting the idiotic NAS industry. It was exactly that little foray into the NAS world that caused me to realise, my world will only change if I make it so.

Apple’s eco-system wants not only all your consumption but also wants to consume you. Thank goodness we live in world where a 35€ credit card sized PC is a way around all that. -Worstwriter dot com

The foreseeable future task is to get out of the old world of monolithic branded computing and enter a world of something new. It was also about weaning myself from all that media data I had accumulated over the years. You now: ripped DVDs, Blu-Rays, my entire audio CD collection, etc. On the other hand, since 2015 I’ve digitised my whole world. But in the last few years I’ve realised that once you move form analog to digital, there’s no need for access to analog anymore. Or am I wrong?

Have the cloud and streamers won?

Between prime-video and/or renting movies with an AppleTV, I just don’t need the hassle of buying disks and digitising them anymore. Then there’s the peace of mind that it’s not all suddenly gonna disappear because, well, HDD makers all make $hit, too, I somehow screwed myself by not backing it up.

For the hell-of-it, and still pondering what I was gonna do with a half dozen or so HDDs lying around, most of which included copies of all my movie and tv files, could I, should I, finally break down and buy a $hit NAS? The SBC (and RPi thing) was working but something didn’t feel right about it. Yeah, a world of all-things beta just ain’t reassuring. Also, when I get bored, I have to consume-to-survive, don’t you know. So come on, worst-writer. Buy something!

Side note: Btw, all my personal and important data is now in the cloud and no longer solely dependent on HDDs. Although I still maintain HDD copies of it all, I’ve finally given in to the Apple’s iCloud being part of my digital life. So what about all those media files?

Break on through to the other side.

Since 2016 I’ve fiddled on/off with Raspberry Pi and a few old USB2 external HDDs. To my astonishment, the RPi as a NAS is viable. The only issue I’ve had using them is the size and capacity of external USB2 HDDs. Both 2TB and 3TB eternal HDDs seem to work but not 4TB. But that’s ok. Or? Also. TimeMachine backups using OMV work great. Of course, the little RPi couldn’t transcode a Blu-Ray ripped MKV file for my iPadAir but that just doesn’t feel important anymore.

Oh. Wait. Another mute-issue.

The RPi thing got my lips wet. So I thought I’d up my game and last year I gave an RPI killer a try. To my astonishment, the Rock64 SBC, offered by Pine64, was really, really cool. To my disappointment, though, the Rock64 ain’t ready for prime-time. External USB HDDs were unstable, ethernet was always falling off, and OMV (OpenMediaVault), compared to how it worked on the RPi, was wishy-washy at best. But those little Pine64 devices did prove themselves to be plenty more powerful than an RPi. Hopefully the software for the Rock64 will get out of beta soon. We’ll see.

Back again to NAS $hit.

Right after Xmas 2018 I started seeing various NAS offerings on sale on that you-know-who online retail site. For the heck of it, knowing with Prime I can always send it back, I purchased a mid-range 4-bay NAS through a warehouse-deal. It was a WD device from around 2015. But after reading various reviews and watching a couple videos, I thought: what the heck. When it finally arrived I filled it with four drives and waited for it to set up a RAID5 configuration. About two hours later I then plugged in one of my backup media drives to its “copy-now” USB3 port and hit the copy button. It took about eight hours but eventually it copied almost 3TB of movie and tv files. I then plugged in another drive with all my music files. After four hours that was done copying. I then went about setting up the NAS to be a Plex media server.

And here we go with all-things-worst.

Long story short: the WD My Cloud EX4100… sucked. The thing couldn’t even transcode one MKV blu-ray ripped movie to my iPadAir. At least it couldn’t do its anybetter than my RPi could. When I utilised both of its gigabyte ethernet ports, setting them up as some kind of duel connection to my home router, it only marginally improved file transfer speeds–but video was still choppy and broken. How is it that WD can even make such a krappy device and then make claims that Plex runs on it? So I erased Plex and gave the WD device’s internal DLNA capabilities a try, thinking that maybe Plex was just too bloated for the minimal specs of this device. Using VLC on my new MacBook and on my old iPad as a client, things only improved slightly. Nomatter what I tried, as far as I’m concerned, that piece of krapp NAS failed at everything–except being a basic file server from the early 2000s. Humbug!

So. Is there room for regret here? Should I have kept my old MacPro? At least that thing handled all the transcoding I ever needed. Heck, that thing could deliver transcoded movies and tv shows to four or five devices on my home network. So do I miss it? The honest answer is: No. I haven’t ripped a DVD or Blu-Ray since 2017 and I had no plans to do it in the future. Those days are gone. I’m committed to that change in (my digital) life.

I guess my worst-point about all this NAS ranting is this: WD, Drobo, Synology, for what they cost… suck-a$$. Too expensive or too slow–makes them no different than the world of PCs for the past thirty years. That’s why I’ve long since given into the MacBook I’m worst-writing this on right now and then simple fact that it is just my/a glorified typewriter that allows me to do lots of research, watch a video or three and manage files here and there. Which is all I need. Which also means: I’m slowly freeing myself from digital hell.

But all is not lost. I returned the krappy WD device and have gone back to the drawing board with those SBCs–as I’m not quite ready to dump all those media files yet. Heck, I even bought a super SBC from Pine64, its RockPro64. It took about three months to get here and when it finally arrived I could feel all my digital boredom making way for some renewed tinkering excitement. Considering I have spent less money for three different SBCs than I spent for a warehouse-sale on a branded NAS device that worked like $hit… And I’m not sure I give a hoot about all that media data anymore…

Yeah, it’s time to bravely move on and while doing so continue tinkering to my hearts ill-content.

Rant on.

-T

Colossal NAS SBC Shoot Out: Raspberry Pi vs RockPro64

Update here.

Have I mentioned how much I hate the network attached storage industry (NAS)? I really, really hate the network attached storage industry. I mean, in the world of monopolised tech, if not monopolised everything, what is there not to hate? And so…

Why in the world does a NAS have to 1) cost so much and 2) be nothing more than …a fcuking complication? Or? Put another worst-way: Do you know complications, dear worst-reader? I, for one, hate complications. It’s the reason I gave up on watch collecting so many years ago. Too many complications drag down watches, don’t you know. Complications un-brighten those watches, too. They force them into a world of complication servitude. Am I wrong? By-the-buy, since I’m going this route of worst-analogies, a watch complication is when a watch does more than just tell time–twice wrong in a day. Hence, a second hand on a watch is a complication. A day/date indicator on a watch is a complication–or two. Stopwatch function? Oh yea. And how ’bout them really fancy Swiss watches with stopwatch and moon dials and they even had one that could count a woman’s cycle? Complication galore, eh, dear worst-reader? But, as usual, I’m off worst-subject.

The tech world is full of complications. How else could the likes of Zuckerberg, face-bag, twitty, get/make billions? In fact, allow me to go out on a real wide & mighty worst-tangent here: The reason oligarchs and monopolies rule the world is because, well, stupid people require complications in order to have/find meaning in the meaninglessness of their Digital lives. Hence, face-bag, twitty, #Trump, etc., they all get by with the allure of having mastered complications. Or am I wrong? Then again, as I’ve done a pretty good job so far in fulfilling my new year’s resolution–i.e. having fewer complications in my Digital life–there’s still a hold-out when it comes to un-complicating it all.

Worst-truth faced today: Do I really need a friggin NAS? NOOOOOOOOO!

For about a half-year now I’ve been experimenting with avoiding having to buy a NAS. Computers, iPads, iPhones, etc. It’s all just too complicated. Or? But there is reality. I’ve been digital for quite a few years so far. That means there’s lots of data that need be saved. The cheap NAS solution so far has been a Raspberry Pi. Late last fall, though, having faced the bottleneck situation of an RPi, i.e. it has limited bandwidth because its ethernet is dependent on a USB2.0 data bus, I splurged and bought a Rock64/4GB from Pine64. Guess what? That’s right. It didn’t friggin work. That is, after numerous attempts at getting it to work, OpenMediaVault (OMV) didn’t/couldn’t deliver. Boy was I glad that I kept that RPi available. Should I have known better to ditch one system for another? Sure. I mean, I knew that OMV is still in beta on Pine64 SBCs. Nomatter. All the same, what a disappointment.

Which brings me to the next issue of this worst-tech-post. I have a hard time learning from my mistakes. And here’s why/how: There was something about Pine64’s Rock64/4GB SBC. Something about it rocked my world–espeically after dabbling around with RPi’s for about two years. The first thing that hit me about Pine64 and the Rock64 was/is its power source. At any given time in my house, I have three RPi’s running. The thing that bugs me most about them all is having to hard-restart them, which means removing the micro-USB power cord. What a flimsy undertaking that is–for RPi’s running as media clients (especially when using Plex) have to be hard-restarted every once-a-once. Removing and reinserting that flimsy power cable sometimes requires several tries. And, yes, each of my RPi’s have dedicated micro-USB power supplies.

Even though as an OMV server the Rock64 failed, I’m currently using it as a Linux headless device running DietPi software. And here’s the real confusing thing about how I fail to learn from my mistakes. The Rock64 stirs (my) emotion. It feels stronger and more durable than the RPi. Even though the software I want to run on it, OMV, doesn’t quite work, DietPi does. And even though I dig DietPi, I want OMV to work on Rock64 as good as it works on RPi.

Oh yea. Learning from my mistakes. NOT!

Thinking/hoping that the Rock64 and the powers-that-be would get all the software that runs on it out of beta, I went ahead and doubled-down and even bought a RockPro641. The problem is, compared to the RPi, even the RockPro64 is sketchy. At the least it doesn’t work any better than a Rock64 device2. So get this, dear worst-reader. Surprisingly, even with its limited bandwidth, lower hardware specs, as the writing of this worst-post, the RPi rips Rock64 and RockPro64 to shreds. But wait…

Spec-wise, there’s no competition here. The RPi is not even in the same league as the RockPro64–or the Rock64. As mentioned, the RPi has limited ethernet because it is dependent on a USB2.0 data bus. Ok. Rock64 devices have full gigabyte ethernet, though. Wow. But what good is that if, well, the friggin thing doesn’t work? The RPi also only has 1GB ram–compared both Rock64 which has 4GB. Then there’s the huuuuuge difference in CPUs. But none of that matters cause… The RPi fcuking works and the Rock64 doesn’t. At least, as a NAS running OMV, it doesn’t work. And so… the RPi runs circles around my two frivolous and blind-hopeful attempts at replacing it with a higher-spec SBC. Which begs the following realisation:

The good news is, I still don’t want/need a NAS. The bad news is, I’m sick of tinkering with SBCs. With that in mind, I’ll continue to use RPi’s as clients–mostly media clients–and keep fiddling with the RockPro64.

Moral of this worst-story: tech monopoly wins yet again.

Yeah, baby.

Consume-to-survive.

Rant on.

-T


  1. Actually, this purchase was somewhat motivated by the fact that I wanted to order something from China–just for the heck of it. I’ve since learned from that mistake, too. ↩︎
  2. They work great as Linux devices to help one learn… wait for it… Linux; they also work great as a WordPress iteration; I’m also using it as a pi-hole DNS server, etc. ↩︎

Getting Some Tech On

 

Subtitle: How To Get Some Tech Freedom With SBC

As previously mentioned here, I’ve been dabbling of-late in the world of SBC (Single Board Computing). Reason? I’m on a long and curvy path to weaning myself from/of Apple and its hellacious eco-system. In fact, I’m currently fiddling around with the idear of getting off the whole greed $hitshow that is personal computing and digital eco-systems. I mean, come on, dear worst-reader. Am I wrong here? Am I the only one who feels a bit perturbed, penetrated, pissed-off at how one of the most successful industries in all of human history has managed to deject customers to the point of mutiny? Nomatter.

After installing three Raspberry Pi’s in my home network (2xclient; 1xserver), I’ve concluded that the time is ripe for not only SBCs but also Linux. Recent purchase and concurrent fiddle-diddle with an RPi 3B+ has done more than completely blow me away. But then again, I might be the only one looking deeper into the recent mega-purchase of Red Hat by IBM. Even though this huuuuge corporate transaction is about enterprise computing, what it really does is finally bring Linux to the forefront as an alternative to the fail-upwards, exploitative and non-competitive conglomerates of Microsoft, Apple, etc. Of course, even though IBM has a reputation for being just as exploitative as any other corporation, the one thing they can’t totally control is the Linux kernel that Red Hat was born out of . But before I get too far off subject.

These little beauts, SBCs, at least for me, have reached validity and user value above and beyond anything available in the old-school tech world of personal computing. Seriously. Although the RPi 3B+ isn’t quite there yet as a total desktop replacement, it is very, very… almost. At the least, the RPi has motivated a lot of others to fill the gap of producing alternative ARM-based desktop replacements, e.g. Intel. So far my little experiment with SBC’s, e.g. OpenMediaVault (OMV) NAS, RasPlex (media player) and Volumio (digital audio player), have all turned out to be solid functioning devices. I’m especially tickled with the RPi 3B+ and its enhanced but still limited ethernet–which is not quite gigabyte because of dependency on a USB2.0 bus. Nonetheless, I can honestly say, it’s a rockin file-server. In fact, it works so well, I’ve completely deleted my wish list for things like a Synology or a Drobo.

Although I was skeptical at first of the RPi 3B+ as a NAS–again, because of limited ethernet bandwidth–after a few months of use my skepticism is null. Easy setup, slight learning curve for OMV, take advantage of already owning several old 3.5″ HDDs, including powered hard-drive enclosures and… Boom! So far, the RPi and OMV, with 2x2TB HDDs connected via USB2.0, has worked flawlessly. Oh wait.

There was one issue when I hooked up the second HDD. I dug out another old hard-drive enclosure and after installing the HDD and then hooking it up to the RPi, I couldn’t get the RPi to restart. Note: the micro-USB power connector is what I consider the only serious flaw of the RPi. I’ve had trouble restarting them before. But after hooking up this second HDD, the problem really showed its nasty face. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the HDD or just the RPi’s power source. Keep in mind, I’m using powered HDDs so there’s no excess draw on the RPi’s board. Also, I’ve purchased dedicated micro-USB power cables (5v-3a) for two of my RPi’s. (The third RPi uses a 12v-4a connector albeit via the HifiberryAmp2 daughter board; this is the best powered RPi I’ve used so far!) Eventually the RPi and OMV restarted but this seems to be a recurring issue if/when I have to perform a hard-restart. My guess so-far is that the problem is the micro-USB power connector of the RPi board. But let’s move on.

After a few months of use, I’m sold on SBCs. Even though I’ve not really taxed my setup with anything but samba, AFP, FTP and a TimeMachine backup server, including my entire music library to the HifiberryAmp2, which is my living-room music player, it works. Considering the price of SBCs, the small amount of know-how required to get them going, their low power consumption, they are definitely the beginning of a future without monopoly-monolithic products we have to deal with now. And so… In my search for a Linux desktop replacement, and fully satisfied with RPi as client device, I recently went ahead and splurged and tried something new.

After research and review, I concluded that it was time to break from Raspberry Pi. So I bought a Rock64 (4GB) from Pine64. I’ve been using it for several weeks now. Compared to the RPi, the Rock64 has true gigabyte ethernet and a faster processor. It also has 1xUSB3.0, 2xUSB2.0 and an emmc slot for increased data transfer compared to the micro-SD. Although this device has slightly higher specs than the RPi, including increased price, it’s my new favourite SBC. The Rock64 is even closer to being a desktop replacement than the RPi. With that in mind, the Rock64pro, the Rock64’s bigger brother, looks like it is the replacement SBC I’ve been looking for. Yeah, now you know my current wishlist.

The Rock64 isn’t officially offered in #eurowasteland yet. So I paid almost double for it in tariffs and import taxes. But that’s neither here nor there. After initial use, dabbling with several Linux distros, the Rock64 is a winner and I’m even sold on Pine64 and the software made available by DietPi. It definitely rival Raspberry Pi. So far, I’ve got VNC running so I can practice/learn Linux (headless9, Pihole blocking obnoxious internet advertising and I was even able to install WordPress and download this entire blog to it locally.

Cool!

Worstwriter’s home network setup so-far:

  • Media Server(s):
    • MacPro[^2010 MacPro 5,1] with Plex Server
      • PlexMedia Players on various devices
    • MacPro/iTunes
      • 2xAppleTV, 4xiOS devices
    • RPi/OMV-NAS/Music (filesever)
      • HifiberryAmp2, Volumio (DAP)
  • RPi/OMV-NAS (test bed):
    • Samba file server
    • FTP
    • TimeMachine Backup (this works better than Mac Server App on my MacPro!)
  • Rock64 (test bed):
    • Pihole – DNS server and home network ad-blocker
    • VNC – Remote desktop, headless SBC
    • LXDE GUI but mostly used for SSH access to learn Linux
    • WordPress.org – installed WordPress and imported this blog locally

Rant on.

-T

Pseudo Tech Test 1: RPi OMV NAS Is First Step To Freedom?

RPi OMV server
RPi-3B+ OMV NAS (sorry for worstwriter’s lack of photo skills).

Would you believe, dear worst-reader, that I spent the last few weeks reading up on SBC’s (single board computer) because…

  1. these little (miracle) devices are so silly-inexpensive AND extremely useful that I can just keep buying them in order to busy my early-retirement existence,
  2. I already have three of them in full use so why not change-up a bit w/ something different like a Rock64?
  3. I’m all poo-poo on Apple on account it’s going full stupid w/ its iOS Krapp.

But I digress.

As of a few weeks back I now have a rockin’ OpenMediaVault NAS running on a RPi 3B+. Connected to it are 2x2TB USB external HDDs that I’ve had lying around. One of the drives is currently being tested as a TimeMachine backup server for all my Macs–and it’s been working great so-far! FYI, even though I possess the capability of offering TM backups on my ageing MacPro with Apple’s MacOS Server App (and only that app), after various attempts using it, I’ve decided it’s a no-go. TM, Apple Macs, home network, etc., don’t really work well together–even though such a claim is sacrilegious as an Apple fan-boy. The reality is, I have never been able to set up my home network–most likely due to krappy networking of ISP issued home router–so that any of my Macs at any given time can access the network for a TM backup. For whatever reason (beyond my comprehension) there has always been network access issue prohibiting TM from working. Put another way: the MacOS Server App, combined with krappy ISP routers, sucks bat-balls!

The second drive of my OMV NAS has a copy of my digital music library, which is my entry-way to perhaps creating a media server for the future–that will replace my ageing MacPro. To play that music I’m using a RPi3 with a Hifiberry Amp2 connected to it (see pic below). My music player -of-choice is Volumio. FYI, I am currently experiencing the best audio/stereo listening of my life with this set-up. Obviously I’m old school when it comes to listening to music which also means so-called smart speakers are not on my consume-to-survive radar anytime soon! Yeah. Smart speakers suck bat-balls, too.

 

 

(Pics of my 3 RPi’s: w/ OMV (ext HDDs left); w/ Hifiberry DAC+Pro used as a Plex client for work-room TV; w/Hifiberry Amp2 and Volumio.)

I have a third RPi as a RasPlex client which is attached to my TV. FYI we don’t have any sort of TV connection to the outside world. I use the TV as a screen for work (presentations) and for streaming w/ Plex and sometimes AppleTV. I guess that means I’m a cord-cutter. Keep in mind, for the last ten or so years we’ve been an Apple household but recent Apple product announcements (especially from 2018), not to mention the rip-off of iTunes, have convinced me to stay the course in my choice of maintaining my own media library.

The pseudo-tech-test.

The question I’m currently asking is how capable is an SBC? Up to this point, using a RPi 3B+ for NAS, experimenting with old HDDs connected via USB 2.0, figuring out Openmediavault, etc., has proven to be viable. Although skeptical of the RPi’s limited ethernet bandwidth that is dependent on USB 2.0, at this point the system works without flaw. There were some glitches when I used an old duel HDD case set to JBOD. The RPi/OMV was unable to access the drives. Since then I’ve acquired two HDD cases with separate power sources. Such a setup is space consuming and requires lots of electric sockets; luckily I have both in abundance.

Indeed. Linux here I come!

I was on the verge of ordering a Rock64 SBC the other day thinking that the RPi’s network capability was too weak. The Rock64 has true gigabyte ethernet–whereas the RPi, dependent on USB 2.0, has only around a third of that. But then I came to my senses. According to my worst-research the Rock64 might be a bit too much for my NAS needs. Up to now I’ve just gotten over certain learning curves of both the RPi and OMV. And even though I’m not using RPi/OMV for streaming video, it has passed with flying colours both backup networking and audio networking.

In short, so far, I am able to backup three Macs, stream music to my Volumio client and also stream HD audio (96khz-24bit) to my Mac using VLC and then playing that music through a TEAC amp (very loudly) via USB–all at the same time. That means I had multiple devices streaming from the RPi-OMV NAS–with its limited Ethernet–and everything worked great.

OMV sys info.jpg

Conclusion (so-far): there is no need to run out and by a higher-end SBC. At least not yet! As soon as I can figure out how to do it, I’ll install Plex on OMV and then do the same test but with video. Needless to say, I am encouraged so far w/ everything SBC. My limited tech skills are able to fiddle-faddle with these Linux devices and even connect hardware (RPi + Hifiberry) here and there to make things not just work but work really, really well. The main task at hand is to find a viable ersatz for Apple. Why, you ask? Because, well, Apple is seriously starting to suck once again–just like it sucked before Steve Jobs returned. As long as I can easily and conveniently backup my Macs, have access to a file server, and have great audio from my digitised music collection, I can’t imagine having to stick with Apple and it preposterous über-expensive shinny unicorn stuff in the future.

Rant on.

-T