Amazon kills unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive option

Recently I had a scare when our home storage server went on the fritz. Years of photographs, videos, and files were suddenly in jeopardy as they appeared to vanish. Being a resourceful geek, once I caught my breath I was able to revive everything. Still, it was enough of a scare that I accelerated my quest for a good, offsite place to back up our files.

Part of this quest was getting gigabit fiber Internet at home, which I recently did when I could no longer wait for Google Fiber and signed up with AT&T Fiber. Untangling this brave new world has kept me busy recently, not leaving much time for blogging. I will have lots to say about this in the near future but suffice to say that having a fat pipe at home makes it easier to do any kind of backup to the cloud.
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Singing the praises of MusicBrainz

MusicBrainz


Can I tell you how much I love MusicBrainz? I have been dabbling on online radio for a few years now and the challenge is always finding interesting content. One of the most cost-effective ways to find varied content is in compilation albums or soundtracks. One-hit wonders that were one staples of radio make good radio content but buying a one-hit wonder’s shitty album just to get their only hit isn’t cost-effective. With MusicBrainz, I can look up a one-hit wonder and find out exactly what compilation albums or soundtracks it’s a part of. I can buy that compilation and not only get the song I want but most likely other good one-hit wonders along with it. Awesome!

Another good use of MusicBrainz is finding just the right mix of a song. Often, record companies will release a remixed or edited song as a single, either designed to fit on a 45 or to be more radio-friendly. For example Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride has a great break that goes on and on in the album version but is often cut short in versions played on the radio (2:55 vs. the original 4:27). This drives me nuts! MusicBrainz knows which versions are which, though! I can find the entire catalog of Steppenwolf, find their The Second album, click on Magic Carpet Ride, and see all the versions of the song that have been released. Goodbye, hacked-up, radio-edit song versions!

MusicBrainz would’ve come in handy with a recent purchase I made at the (now defunct) Ed McKay store earlier this year. I picked up what I thought was a compilation album of early 70’s hits. I expected these to be the original master recordings of the songs but that’s not what I got! The entire album was re-recordings of the hits, none of them sounding the same as the ones I know and love. I was disappointed I hadn’t noticed the small print on the CD cover, and that I hadn’t gone to MusicBrainz first!

MusicBrainz is an open source project as well as a 501c(3). It’s worthy of your time and contributions!

Intel NUC as home server

It's nice when your server fits in your mailbox.

It’s nice when your server fits in your mailbox.


I’ve always liked to have a home server hanging around for things like email, file sharing, and the like. Over the years this has taken the form of a beefy desktop computer, a PowerPC-based MacMini, an embedded Linux-based router, and recently a beat-up old laptop. All had their challenges, power consumption and fan noise being the two main ones, though the PowerPC machine and the router also couldn’t run all the software I needed. I was limping along on my busted laptop for as long as I could but decided it was nearing the end of its useful life. It was time to go shopping for something that would last me a while.

The embedded idea still appealed to me for the two main reasons I mentioned above: power consumption and noise. I wanted something that sips electricity and was quiet yet still provided enough computing power to do what I needed. After reading up on some online reviews, I went with the Intel NUC.

Intel’s NUC (“Next Unit of Computing”) systems are embedded x86_64 machines which are about half the size of a brick. They have plenty of ports: HDMI, USB 3.0, and even a Thunderbolt port. They come with your choice of Intel processors, whether it is an i3, i5, or i7 series. Memory can be boosted to 32 GB and it accepts newer SSD drives. Some models can fit 2.5″ laptop drives as well. The hardest part about making the jump to an Intel NUC was simply deciphering which Intel model had which options. Sometimes having too many choices isn’t a good thing, I suppose.
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Google to Google routing could be better

fiber_houseLike many Triangle residents, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Google Fiber service, ready to ditch my indentured servitude to Time Warner Cable. I’m a fairly advanced geek, too, hosting this site and others on Amazon Web Services. I want my website to be as speedy as possible to me and my web visitors, so low network latency is very important. For those who aren’t advanced geeks, network latency is how long it takes for a packet to travel between two points on a network, usually measured in milliseconds. Networking often hits upon the limitation of the speed of light (or radio propagation, depending on the medium), meaning a server located far away (like Singapore) will have a noticeable delay for visitors in America.

My Amazon virtual server is physically located in Ashburn, Virginia but due to some favorable network routing it responds very quickly in the Triangle area, almost as if it were right across town. I have found it very hard to find a server that’s any closer, network-wise.
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Apple defends decision to remove 3.5mm headphone jack, cites “courage” | Ars Technica

I want to love Apple. I really do. But then Apple does something boneheaded like phase out a perfectly-good 3.5mm headphone jack in favor of its own, $160 proprietary headphone technology and I want to throw out every Apple product in my home.

Apple doesn’t want its customers to have choices. It has become the Microsoft of the 2000s. “Courage,” my ass. How about greed? How often do you think Apple’s customers will lose these loose, pricey earbuds?

"Airpods," a.k.a. overpriced junk

“Airpods,” a.k.a. overpriced junk

SAN FRANCISCO—Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller took the stage at Wednesday’s iPhone event to announce the news most tech geeks had been expecting: the iPhone will leave the 3.5mm headphone jack behind. It was Schiller’s job to justify why Apple was doing so, and he defended the company’s decision by citing three reasons to move on—and one word: “courage.”

Schiller explained to the San Francisco event crowd that Apple would push the Lightning port standard for wired headphones and push a new proprietary wireless standard, driven by the new “W1 chip” in iOS devices, which Schiller called Apple’s first wireless chip.

The 3.5mm port, on the other hand, has to go, Schiller said, because the company can’t justify the continued use of an “ancient” single-use port. He described the amount of technology packed into the iPhone, saying each element in Apple’s phones is fighting for space, and it’s at a premium. And while every iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will include a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter, Schiller was a lot more bullish about the company’s wireless-audio standard.

Source: Apple defends decision to remove 3.5mm headphone jack, cites “courage” | Ars Technica

KeePass2Android password manager

keepass2android

At $WORK, I use a commercial password management tool that seems to fit my needs as well as the company’s. For my home use, however, I prefer open source.

My password manager of choice has been KeePass. I like it’s open nature and wide variety of supported platforms. As I began to use it regularly, though, I realized that keeping all these password databases in sync is a huge challenge. Earlier this week I went searching to see if another open source password manager might do the trick and thanks to this post on the excellent Linuxious blog I discovered KeePass2Android.

KeePass2Android is a fork of KeePass and uses KeePass’s same libraries to manipulate its databases. The big win for KeePass2Android, though, is its extensive support for remote files. It supports databases hosted on popular file-sharing tools such as Google Drive, DropBox, Box.com, as well as SFTP-and-WebDAV-hosted files. It’s also been rewritten from Java to Mono for Android, which seems to be snappier than the Java version.

Now I have KeePass2Android installed on all of my devices and pointed to the same database! That’s one big feature now no longer solely the domain of commercial password managers. Score one for open source!

The Bishop’s Boys

The_Bishops_Boys
Just finished the excellent biography by Tom D. Crouch of the Wright Brothers called The Bishop’s Boys. A few things I came away with after reading this book:

  • The Wrights may not have been the first to take to the air, but they were indeed the first to do so in a controlled, purposeful manner. That’s the difference between a glider and an airplane.
  • They stood on the shoulders of giants. The Wrights gathered up all the research they could find on the efforts to build an airplane and added their own to it. Granted it was pretty important stuff, stability and all, but they didn’t start exactly from the ground-up as I always imagined they did.
  • Though they shared many of the same unique qualities that aided their invention, the airplane started as Wilbur’s project and Orville joined in later. Wilbur primarily worked out the engineering problems and Orville’s mechanical skills transformed them into a working machine. They worked jointly on both but these were the strengths of each.
  • The brothers considered themselves to be failures, lacking ambition in life, before they were inspired to build the airplane.
  • Science said an airplane couldn’t be built. Engineering proved it could. According to the book, science couldn’t even explain how an airplane worked until a quarter-century after the first one took to the skies.
  • The Wrights were top-notch engineers. Smart, knowledgeable, intensely curious, and exceedingly careful. They really wanted to know everything that went into making an airplane fly. They didn’t take anyone’s word for anything. This is partially why they succeeded without killing themselves in the process, unlike so many of their contemporaries.
  • Once their airplane flew the Wrights became essentially arms dealers, selling it to the highest bidders among various governments. There isn’t much discussion about the moral repercussions of having their invention become a weapon of war. The Wrights seemed never to have a second thought about this, nor was there any apparent push to have it used primarily for peaceful purposes. The Wrights were too eager to cash in, in my view.
  • Orville Wright nearly died from typhoid fever in 1896, seven years before the first flight.
  • The Wright Brothers take to the air for the first time, Dec 17, 1903.

    The Wright Brothers take to the air for the first time, Dec 17, 1903.

  • Both brothers were high school dropouts.
  • Both were thoroughly unfazed by the rich and powerful. They were called on by kings and presidents and treated them the same as anyone else.
  • The Wrights never would’ve gotten off the ground if it were not for the selfless assistance of their unsung sister, Katherine. I suppose “The Wright Brothers and Sister” didn’t have the same ring to it.
  • For several years after their first flight, the world considered them frauds and liars. It was only several years later that the Wrights’ airplane was publicly demonstrated.
  • As Orville mused later in his life, he and Wilbur might never have created the airplane if so many circumstances hadn’t lined up precisely the way they did. The book is an entertaining account of how fate did line up.