When Opportunity Knocks…

January 23, 2011

Entertainment, Technology

I am one of those odd folks who truly believes that each challenge you face is an opportunity to grow and become more than you were before.  Yeah, it’s trite.  And worse still, I’m not always a consistent example of this “life lesson.”  But this weekend has been a cool example of how a challenge can yield some unexpected (and welcome) changes.

Over the past week, I’ve run into quite a few problems with hard disk drives.  We’ve had some trouble at work.  And we’ve had some trouble here at home.  And this is not altogether unexpected as hard drives are the largest source of moving parts in any computer.  So they are the most likely components to fail.  And this week proved that point.

At home, we’ve had a hard drive fail in my wife’s old laptop.  When she had a power supply fail on the device last month, we quickly replaced the whole laptop.  And the new laptop runs very well.  But what about the old laptop?  Well, I’ve finally gotten around to trying to extract Cindy’s data from off of her old laptop.  And the results have been singularly unimpressive.  After pulling the drive out, I got some USB-to-SATA cables and hooked up the drive to my main system.  Unfortunately, all I am getting is a clicking sound and no recognition of the drive when it is attached to my system.  After confirming this with someone else at work, I’m coming to the realization that when we had the power supply problem, it zorched both the motherboard and the hard drive.  I’ll try a few more things this week [including the freezer trick].  But unless I want to send the hard drive off to a clean room, we may have substantial data loss (since the last backup).

And the situation got worse when I started to have serious problems on my own external hard drive.  I had a three-year old external, USB-attached hard drive.  And I started to get some seek errors on the unit.  After about four hours of fiddling with the device, I got it back to a “limping along” state.  But I knew that such states rarely last.  So I began the process of researching a replacement unit.

After a lot of research, I finally decided not to buy the NAS system with a RAID-5 infrastructure.  I didn’t have the cash for that kind of expenditure.  Rather, I got a simple, single disk NAS system at Best Buy.  And as of this moment, I am singularly impressed by the Western Digital MyBook Live device that I purchased.

This device is simple and solid.  It plugs into an AC outlet.  And you connect it to your network with an Ethernet cable.  In my case, I plugged it into the main router/switch that I have in my office.  And the good news is that this device will migrate to my gigabit Ethernet network – whenever I put that in place.

Once I plugged it in, the setup was utter simplicity.  Within a few minutes, I had a device that could act as external storage for every computer connected to our network.  And the performance seems reasonable – even for systems connected via WiFi (including our smartphones).  So within a few minutes, the core mission was accomplished.

Then came the fun.

The enclosure for this 1TB drive came with sufficient ROM and RAM to place real functionality within the chassis.  Obviously, there is a Linux kernel running Samba.  And there is also an instance of Twonky Media server.  So this device provides DLNA/UPnP services on the home network.

This means that I can have all sorts of devices consume the content – including my HDTV and my phone.  But at a minimum, every Windows device in the household can get streaming content from the NAS.

And the music and videos will stream directly through Windows Media Player.

At this moment, I have all sorts of content that I used to source from my desktop system (running TVersity) which can now be streamed from a purpose-built applicance.

All of this proves that cool capabilities can now be plugged right into the network.  Last year, I plugged a printer directly into the network.  Yesterday, I plugged disk storage ad a streaming media server directly into the network.  Before this, every desktop and laptop in the house depended upon my desktop system to be available.  I can now stop worrying about whether I am impacting other people’s work when I do some CPU-intensive or some disk-intensive task.  I can schedule desktop downtime during prime-time hours.  W00t!

Finally, all of this new stuff makes me realize just how far we’ve come in such a short time.  When I built my first computer system (i.e., a Heathkit H89), I had the option of installing one of the very first “Winchester” drives into the system enclosure.  I declined the option.  I knew how important disks would be for personal computers.  But I couldn’t justify spending over $600 for 10MB of storage.  And how could I ever use that much storage.  Yesterday, I installed a system with 100,000 times the capacity for 1/4 the price.  Times really have changed.


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2 Comments on “When Opportunity Knocks…”

  1. teknophilia Says:

    So the new NAS hasn’t had any hiccups during installation or use? I may have to get one.


    • Lorin Olsen Says:

      No sir, it has been rock solid. It would be cheaper to build a Linux box from spare parts. But my time is worth a whole lot more. And I’d rather deal with sw issues instead. For me, the disk, the network port and the Samba server were worth the price of admission. But the Twonky server was the icing that sold the deal.


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