10T Backup Server Project


Craig Severson explained his backup system one time. it seems over the top until you hear, “I can take that drive over there, plug in, reboot and I’m back to five minutes ago.”

I needed a backup device that transparent like Apple Time, was more cost effective then a appliance NAS drive, give me the most storage for my money and it had to be something I could self repair. I ended up building a 10 terabyte server powered by FreeNAS for under a $1000.

the problem that caused the need for this project presented itself in a rude way. a hard drive died inside a MacBook Pro which had a backup but it wasn’t up-to-date. this was caused by the movable nature of notebook computers. you have to remember to plug things in so that other things can happen automatically. the back up drive for Time Machine won’t work otherwise. and because nobody thinks like, “hey, so I’m going to lunch I guess I will plug this in so it will do it’s thing.” we have to make sure that backups just happen.

which brings up an ugly rule: the only time you think about backups is when you need one.
Continue reading “10T Backup Server Project”

enter the age of 3D printing


my problem with things today is that it’s going to become virtually impossible to play. electronics is a good example. so many of the parts are surface mount only. meaning you can’t just whomp something together on a bread board. but to push the idea even further, there is no way for two guys in a garage to make an iPod. okay they could but look at the skill set they have to have to make it happen.

I read a Rudy Rucker book where lots of the tech is mindblowingly complex. tech that was so hard that a humans couldn’t even be involved after a certain point. yet interfaces to tech creation allowed the characters to control making without thinking about who made who (robot making tech based on human interaction). the book Makers mentions combining complex programming projects into a greater object. this concept of reusing code is tossed out there like it’s no big deal. but fiction always over simplifies making because the story would become boring otherwise. to most people man landing on the moon is a sound bite even though it took the better part of 20 years (don’t forgot all the work before the Kennedy speech) to get there.

I’ve had a lot of printers in my life from letter quality daisy wheels to dot matrix to dye sub to laser. and at some level the businesses I ran wouldn’t have been possible without the leveraged use I got from printing without limits. Tom pointing that this same thing is right here with 3D printing is telling.

1) it’s ground zero. think of MakerBot“>Makerbot as a Epson MX-80
2) there potential for hundreds of new business
3) be prepared to see lots of failure as it engages
4) plastics and resins are toxic. stand by for regulation in California.
Continue reading “enter the age of 3D printing”

Reusing Old Stuff


trevor: what to do with an old G3 or Pentium?
the world: pretty much it’s so old that it’s old. recycle it.

don’t listen to the world, Trevor! there’s lots of life left in that old, old Mac (or Pentium). we’ve got lots of ideas about what it might do. but we know you wouldn’t make a $1000-2500 computer do something dumb. it’s too expensive and too useful to use for something that is for art. it’s always hard to justify dedicating a computer to a single task like scanning, playing music, or displaying information. but that changes when the machine is free or nearly free! while you wouldn’t think of using a ten year old computer for day to day work it’s certainly powerful enough to do hundreds of dullard tasks.

but before you get excited about putting memory lane back in to production here are the some rules or guidelines to help you:

the rules of reuse:

    -1) some things are too old.
    0) free is good. nearly free is okay too.
    1) don’t get sentimental about what the hardware was to you.
    2) don’t spend money on making it better. use it like it is.
    3) okay, you can replace the hard drive(s) and noisy fans. we like SSD drives for this!
    4) take out what you don’t need to reduce the power footprint. cards like modems. old CD/DVD drives. 
    5) clean the case. completely take it apart to remove the dust.
    6) as long as you have it apart paint it!
    7) ditch the CRT unless it’s built in. VNC, SSH or PC Remote into it.
    8) don’t try to run the latest software
    9) keep it specific to one task. maybe two. okay three. but that’s it!
    10) have fun. if you break it that’s okay. there’s more.

here’s the details on what the guys at Panic made for their work place. it’s got lots of useful data in one glance.

but what could it do for you?

    alarm clock
    remember keyboard hacking is a easy way to get inputs
    what else can a mouse do?
    weather station
    scan station
    MP3 Jukebox
    web cam
    wall art
    GarageBand station
    stop mo camera controller
    Home Automation
    Show Me My Today
    run OS 9
    run OS/2

the best old stuff tools to have:

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GarageBand Revisited


when was the last time you played with GarageBand? I was inspired to revisit the tool. I found it be as fun as it was the first time I played. what was the inspiration?

I while ago I was given a real copy of the movie “It Might Get Loud” that features Jack White, Edge and Jimmy Page telling stories and playing guitar. it’s a movie that I didn’t get distracted by outside forces and watched it from beginning to end without doing anything but watch. except I had to pause it about 13 minutes in because there was a mind blow. Edge is showing off his old demo tapes made with a 4 track cassette based tape recorder. the very basis for the band was created on the most basic of recording equipment. and later in the movie Jack White records a one-take on a reel-to-reel deck using a microphone and a guitar. it’s the best modern examples of musicians making with whatever they had. that early Four Track wasn’t the best but it ran on batteries and you could make real songs on it. the reel-to-reel recording shows off that you can make song using any recording technology.

the modern equivalent of those recorders is GarageBand (and other apps that are similar to it). GarageBand was released in January of 2004 at Macworld Expo. the demo was captivating. sure, there were other recording sequencers but they cost more, were way more complex and they didn’t come with a new Mac. sure you would eventually hit the wall or the ceiling with GarageBand making you seek a different tool. but this was the same exact thing that happened with MacPaint back in 1984.

simply, that GarageBand comes with every Macintosh is amazing.

there are four main functions of GarageBand: recording, virtual instruments, MIDI editing and Music Lessons. you can record your own songs, podcast or practically everything you’d need to record. music is not a requirement of recording. meaning if you need to dictate something GarageBand can do that job.

the hardest part about GarageBand is that it’s an instrument. it’s to you to practice using it because it’s not instantly intuitive. so far the best way to get started with it is to watch somebody showing you around. or watch the how-to-videos on Apple. you don’t want to wait until it’s time to record the band for your first time to use it. why? because you’ll want to turn off that annoying metronome. you’ll want to know how to set levels. you’ll need to know how to switch inputs. and anything else that will stop you from recording. you want it to be part of you not something against you.

that’s what I did when GB first came out. it took days of my time. I made songs for people. I learned about different effects it had. I found out how powerful it was as an editor and later I recorded podcasts with it.

for learning about how to mix multiple tracks there are some very good example files that will help you. multimixing isn’t obvious until GarageBand you may have never been exposed to the task. that’s why you should see how other people do it. Nine Inch Nails and Ben Folds have released real tracks of songs. also Jonathan Coulton released the parts and pieces of Code Monkey. you don’t have to be a fan of the music to play with the tracks as there is lots to learn from having “real” to rearrange.

if you want to really get “good” at GarageBand you have to treat it like an instrument and practice. that means making beats, laying down tracks, and arranging things. and you don’t have to download anything extra to do that. there are thousands of loops and beats installed on your Mac already. play everything to get an idea of what it can do. spend an hour every other day. play every loop, play every keyboard, and try out all the amps. use Search to find specific sounds. mess with the effects to see what they do. and change the keyboards to all the different styles.

speaking of Keyboard: you don’t need a music keyboard to play the keyboards as you can use your keyboard to do that. Shift-Command-K will bring up a “virtual” one octave keyboard. find the sound set called Radio and press G.

okay so you don’t “need” an instrument to “play it” because it is an instrument. but let’s say you want to. if you don’t already have a electric piano or a guitar please don’t run down to your music store and thrown down money. why? because there have been enough instruments purchased on the road to good intention. instead spend a little time looking for a used axe. these are the instrument that get used for a while, then then get put aside and they sit until the day they need to go. you can always find something unloved for less money which will totally do the job. the bottom line is don’t get big eyes about something that might not like.

Garage Band can be a better tool if you do some things to help it. if you have an older Mac dedicate it to your studio. that way it can be set up and ready to go when it’s time to jam. an old iMac G5 with any size screen will do. or an old MacBook. remember the first ones are coming up on 4 years old now. get some control surface(s) like the mini Korg that has knobs, sliders and drum pads. if you want a keyboard watch craigslist or your local want ads. there are always deals to be had. and for recording your voice any of the $100 USB mics are nice. or get an interface like the Fast Track which will allow you to plug in a Mic and a Guitar.

Windows? what about Windows! there are Windows equivalents to Garage Band.

eventually you may grow up and out of GarageBand. the two versions of Logic will import your GB projects. and any of them can read the raw MIDI files and AIFF files the program creates allowing you recreate your creation.

    Ableton Live
    Pro Tools
    Digital Performer

other stuff mentioned on the show:

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taking apart an AKAI M9 pre-amp

I was on my way to my office when I found it abandoned next to a public trash bin. it stood out because nothing else was around. like this was that runt of the stuff already picked over. I liked the meters enough to carry it to the office.

then it sat. I’d put in in the area where the office people leave their old books, monitors, printers and other office stuff that somebody might want. sometimes things get a new home right away. mostly stuff just sits there until the computer recycle truck takes it for one last ride. sadly, this “free space” is done just like Virtual Fry’s is over. somebody moved into the office next to there and all that stuff was going to go away. if I was going to salvage the meters it was now. so I stashed the box in the closet that nobody looks in until the weekend.

in looking at my task I found it was going to be a bigger job then I first thought. the problem was that to get to the meters I had to remove almost about every part because that stuff covered the four spring’d screws holding the meters on to the panel. let’s just say I’m not keeping much.

let me tell you there is nothing as satisfying as taking old something completely apart. all I wanted was the meters. I wasn’t interested in any of the other parts. my junk parts drawer is full of junk parts waiting to become another project. like something that will power my new meters!.

I started on the right side and worked counter clockwise. I think the appeal was start where there was less parts before getting into the mess. meticulous could be a way to describe my focus but I wasn’t trying to save it back to live. it was coming apart as fast as I could get it apart. but reckless doesn’t describe my work either. if I was reckless it would have been much quicker to the meters.

it’s interesting to see technology from the not so past. it’s complicated and it’s not. I found reason to what looked like madness as I became more familiar with the layout. sometimes it’s a thing of beauty. but mostly you have to marvel that it worked at all. I am sure that somebody will marvel over an iPod the same way 4o years from now.

at some point in the dismantle I stopped to organize. wire went in a plastic cup, electronics parts went in another, and hardware went in plastic that delivered pie when I demanded that somebody bring me pie one day on Twitter. this made the mess less. you don’t have to have the neatnick gene in you to see why you’d bother. there are so many screws, nuts, stand offs, wires, knobs, resistors, capacitors and everything else that eventually everything is in everything. and when you move the case to get a better view the clutter is automatically in the way. so if you don’t have a declutter plan on going you will have to sort it in the end but I think its better to have the sorting done along the way.

it took a while but I finally found a clue as to what it was I was taking apart. it hadn’t occurred to me to ask this question before I plunged into destroying what could have been a priceless pre-amp. I’d figured out from the inputs, knobs and switches that it’s job was pre-amp for something. although the numbers 7 1/2, 3 3/4 and 1 7/8 didn’t mean anything to me. nor did MUTE, NORM and SOS. it must be HAM radio gear I surmised.

one circuit board was marked M-9-501. at this point I had to stop to see if I was right in the middle of a thousands of dollars mistake. a quick search found that it was the pre-amp for a Akai M9 reel to reel tape deck. eBay revealed that, wait for it… it wasn’t worth anything… phew!

auction for an M8 and a M10

the search did find a PDF of the service manual for the AKAI M9. you have to love that this kind of detail was sent into the field allowing people to repair what became broken. today if it breaks you almost always have to replace it. although we have luck getting iPods to work again replacing batteries, screens and media. but not everyone has an awesome set of tools.

I was pretty quick to finish. unsoldering wires from boards and connectors took about as long as cleaning the table of clutter. I took pictures of the front panel then stacked the metal so it could take it to the recycle bin when I left for home. finally I put all the parts in a box which will go back into the secret closet until I have another day to build the project that needs my found meters.

why take stuff apart?

  • it’s a satisfying way to spend a few hours.
  • you might get ideas on how to build something based on old something.
  • there are lots of useful parts.
  • it’s better than recycling the whole thing
  • makes a nifty article like this.

tools you definitely need

  • screw drivers
  • soldering iron
  • solder sucker
  • wire cutters
  • nut drivers
  • pliers (various sizes)
  • containers
  • recycle bin

AKAI tape reel to reel tape decks were sold for the next two decades or so until sales of cassette recorders pushed them out of the mainstream market place. audio “geeks” still have a love affair with this type of recorder for good reason. they often have features that lessor recorders will never have. things like four tracks, different recording speeds, and analog warmth caused by lots of analog head room. the last decks were things of beauty. watching somebody winding a tape to play and then watching the open reels as it’s playing is nothing but hypnotic.

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G4 NAS drive MK3


the Mark Three is the last of version of the G4 NAS Drive project. the idea started back in the day when the readyNAS hit the scene. it was the first of the “appliance servers”. it’s only problem was it’s cost. without drives it was around $800.

I realized that an older G4 was roughly the same specs at the readyNAS in terms of CPU speed, bus speed, memory and if you installed a few bits of software onto a standard OS X one could gain specific permissions for file/folder sharing making it more like a server instead of a share. OS X 10.5 would make these tools unnecessary. but getting 10.5 installed on the older hardware is a trick. and while it can be done it and it works just fine it’s not supported.

the reality of the G4 NAS is that it’s really just a G4 Server. I used the word NAS as a way to draw attention to the project and to hit home that it’s really easy to setup and run OS X so it behaves like a server. yes, you can run OS X Server on the G4. it will run 10.4 just fine. running the newer OS X 10.5 Server requires a mac with better specs. you’ll find it much harder to get a more modern G4 for free or nearly free though.

the G4 machines I used for this project were retired hardware that had been purchased new. eventually they were deemed too old to do day to day work. in addition the machines that were made into NAS drives were passed over for faster G4 macs when a gift or donation was made to somebody who needed a machine. they were pretty much unloved.

the G4 NAS had three distinct versions. it was always a work in progress. each was based on a Sawtooth G4 upgraded with as much RAM possible. RAM is a particular problem because the G4 needs specific timing making it hard to find today.

Mk1 – RAID1 two 500G PCI SATA card.
Mk2 – RAID5 four 250G 3.5 drives PCI RAID card
Mk3 – RAID5 four 500G 2.5 drives PCI RAID card

the write up for the Mk1 reveals that there isn’t much to making the upgrade. it’s as simple as plugging in a card and mounting two hard drives. then formatting the drives using the Disk Utilities as RAID1.

problems with the MK2
there wasn’t an article for the Mk2. mostly because the build was completely complicated. it required cutting the metal case to wedge in the SATA backplane to hold the drives. this required removing everything from the case: drives, motherboard, power supply. I also had to cut the plastic bezel front. the first attempt basically ruined a case and a bezel. undaunted, because I had more than one, the second mac came out okay. and it was in use until recently. but it had problems. it’s power supply had died for the third time making it was clear that it was over taxed. this wasn’t a good solution for anyone expecting reliability.

the thinking behind the MK3
the MK3 G4 NAS drive upgraded the Mk1 which has been running continuously for three years. in that time both of it’s hard drives had failed. and one of the SATA cables also went mysteriously bad. this caused random server lock ups. fortunately Seagate promptly replaced both failed drives. and I had lots of SATA cables around.

what I really wanted was a more reliable Mk2. there were a few ways to achieve this. one was to brain transplant into a case that was more suitable to the task. but that came with a cost and more work. retrofitting a larger power supply isn’t hard but soldering wires together is beyond the skill set of the wide spread audience.

one day while searching for something else I found a a backplane made for 2.5″ hard drives. this tiny thing is the size of a 5.25″ device like a CD/DVD drive. the cage holds four 2.5″ hard drives. the drives are on sleds allowing them to be “hot swapped”. cooling is provided by a small fan that has speed control. it’s pretty small and slick.

this setup has three really big advantages compared to the 3.5″ version.

1) less heat.
2) uses less power. all four drives use less then one 3.5″ drive.
3) virtually no noise.

unlike the Mk2 that was an invasive build the Mk3 wasn’t a big deal. the drive backplane slid into the space where the DVD drive was before. in the three years that it ran the MK1 I never burned a DVD from here so it’s not a loss. once installed I plugged the cables into the controller I took the from the Mk2. I also connected the power. that was it. installed.

formatting it to working
formatting the hard drives required “logging into the controller” using a web browser that asked for a username and password. the card listed all the hard drives, I formatted them, then created the RAID5. the final step was the format the array again using Disk Utility. this is important because it reveals the RAID part is invisible to the Mac. it just thinks of it as a big volume.

the RAID5 took 20 hours to format. which is typical on this class of controller. even a Drobo has formatting that it must complete before it can be rebuild itself. I found that I could use the drive normally during this process. however, if a drive were to fail at this point no data would be recoverable.

there are people that right now aghast at the thought of using a “laptop” drive for a server. I think this is a better drive compared to the larger drive. both have a similar MTBF. plus the smaller drive produces less heat because it uses less energy. I have found that the larger drives don’t seem to stand the test of time. in the three years that the MK1 was running I replaced both drives. these are “server” class Seagate with 5 year warrantees. and the Mk2 proved that over loading a power supply will kill it.

I’ve written that a drive has a useful life of three years. after that the next series of drives is available: more capacity and smaller power requirements. it’s a good idea to move with progress. I can’t imaging how much has been lost because copying data forward to more modern hardware wasn’t part of the plan.

the future?
the G4 is 10 years old. while there are fast G4 to be had the later Mac’s aren’t always better. especially the last one. it’s so noisy that you will hate it being on unless you change all the fans inside. also because of it’s speed we don’t always see these for free or low cost. the over 1Ghz seems to make them useful. even if you go with newer hardware there are no more software updates for this Mac. half of the line was left behind with OS X 10.4 and the other half get dropped with 10.5. these Macs continuing to run are only doing so because of the diligence I’ve taken to keep them running. free is a motivating factor. so is because I can.

while the G5 has some advantages the line is splintered. the PCI bus changes slightly with each build. but worse is it uses an obscene amount of power compared to the G4. even though it has a huge case there isn’t much room inside of it for mods although I’ve eyed that area where the PCI slots are. but the best reason to skip it is that PPC hit the end of the upgrade line with OS X 10.6. it really is game over turn out the lights for this Mac.

I am very likely going to experiment with the modern Mac Mini (Intel) as a platform. it’s small, doesn’t use much power, and doesn’t need a fan. it also has possibilities for re-casing. as in dump the tiny case putting the guts in something that will make the hard drives more easy to deal with.

there are interesting mods that could be added like a 5 way drive controller allowing the Mini to talk to 10T of storage.

other future
from a DIY point of view FreeNAS or OpenFiler have bright futures. an old Intel or AMD box can be had for free (or nearly free) giving you the same platform advantage as the G4. although you will want to re-fan it for quiet. I plan on re-useing our 3.5″ backplane for either of these projects. FreeNAS has a ZFS possibility. OpenFiler is the new kid with new ideas. both of these mean you have to depart from the Mac-dom. which shouldn’t be a big deal really, it just means you might have to learn something new.

there are still lots of commercial offerings that you might consider if you don’t want to roll your own. especially if the benefits of support and a warrantee are important to you. devices to check out include the readyNAS, Lacie, QNAP, Buffalo, Freecom, Addonics, and that very inexpensive Intel NAS. if you decide to go this way let us know how the device you choose works out for you.

RAID controller
HighPoint RocketRAID 1740 PCI Card $119 (pulled from the Mk2)
an altenate card is the Rosewill RC-217 4 Port PCI RAID Card we did NOT tested this card.

Drives and backplane
4 Fujitsu 500GB 2.5″ Hard Drive hard drives.
2.5″ Hot Swap Backplane RAID cage 4 x 2.5″ HDD in 1 x 5.25″ bay $50
SATA cables $12 for four

the old back plane is a
ICY DOCK MB674SPF-B 4 in 3 SATA I & II Backplane Raid Cage

total cost
RAID card $119
backplane $55
drives $79 each
total $490

MK1 build pictures

MK3 build pictures

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