DIY: my bamboo USB SSD disk bay

This is the story of how I made my own pretty bamboo USB SSD disk expansion support for my laptop, hereby possibly inventing the gadget category “disk expansion laptop coaster

2017 Peter Forret

As a photographer, I need a lot of storage space. As a travelling photographer, I also need it on my laptop. My current 13″ MacBook Pro is plenty fast, but it only has a 512GB SSD drive. I quickly found out that is way too small. So I bought an external SSD disk. The Samsung Portable 500GB version is affordable and it’s almost as fast as the internal drive. But it’s only 500GB. So I bought a second and a third. Now, travelling with 3 USB disks and a USB hub (since my MBP only has 2 USB ports, and I need one for reading CompactFlash cards) is quite a hassle. There’s cables everywhere, you’re always afraid you’ll drop one, or forget one. So I decided to kind of tape them together.

2017 Peter Forret

After travelling for months with this beta version (made out of a plastic table cover and lots of tape), I decided to make a real one, a version 1.0. Here’s what happened:

Continue reading DIY: my bamboo USB SSD disk bay

Wifi in my car: proof of concept

Some drivers love fancy chrome wheel rims, some add a huge wing spoiler on their car, or fuzzy dice hanging from their rear-view mirror. Me, when I bought my new car, I decided that I wanted a Wifi network in my car. So that any passenger with a laptop/iPod could read his email. And I imagined driving to distant holiday locations while my passenger where watching movies streamed from a NAS disk built into the car.

This weekend I finished episode one: Internet in the car. I used the following components:

The important details here are:

  • The Huawei stick is compatible with the TP-Link router.
  • The Huawei stick can be configured with ‘Save my PIN’, so that when it starts up, it connects to the 3G network without any manual intervention.
  • The TP-Link router runs on 12V DC (which is what a car has)

For the rest, the exercise was quite straight-forward: I configured the Huawei stick on my laptop with the right PIN code, popped it in myTP-Link router, configured the right 3G settings for Telenet (see here). Then I took an old 12V power transformer, chopped off the connector and linked it up to an old car cigarette lighter type of plug (sometimes it’s good to have an archive of obsolete cables and power supplies). I then hid the router under the base plate of my trunk, where there is also the battery (the BMW X1 stores the battery in the back, where you would normally have the spare tyre). I switch on the car and 20 seconds later, I have a Wifi network “OnTheRoadAgain” that is connected to the Internet. Proof of concept is OK!

The next step now is to add a (Synology) NAS, which also runs on 12V, and hook up my iPad to the car Wifi to view my collection of backed-up DVDs from that disk. And maybe run some extra programs (e.g. MRTG for monitoring) on that NAS. To be continued!

Bose Soundlink: ideal travel companion

SoundLink

Thanks to the nice people at Bose Belgium, I have been using the Bose Soundlink for a couple of weeks, and when I left for a trip to Buenos Aires last month, I thought: why not take it along? After all, it’s only 1.3kg and it could give me some better sound in the hotel. I did not regret it.

First of all it’s fully wireless: the Soundlink works on long-lasting batteries and gets its music over Bluetooth easily up to 10 meters away. It’s really light, so you really carry it with you without thinking too much. Any time I get back to my room, I just press the icon on the speaker and it reconnects to my iPhone. I take it to the kitchen, the terrace on the rooftop, and it just keeps playing, even when I leave the iPhone in my room.

Most importantly: the sound is impressive. Everyone who heard my Soundlink was really impressed and started asking me for technical -and financial- details. Now, at 300€, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s worth all that.

For all the ‘gadgets’ I use, I ask myself: does it make my life more enjoyable (for a reasonable price)? For the Bose Soundlink, that’s a definite ‘Yes’.

Capdase camera bag for Canon

I just got a new bag for my ‘small’ Canon: a Capdase MKeeper 180A. My previous bag was too soft and I wanted to try something more solid. I looked through the Canon 500D bags and rather liked the rectangular MKeeper series. The 180 is just big enough for the 350/400/450/500/550 body and an extra lens. I could actually fit the camera body in with the extra battery grip, but that’s stretching the case a bit. If you take the camera without a battery pack, you can choose to store body and lens attached or separate. A really nice feature of the bag is the ‘raincoat’: in the back zipper pocket there is a rain protection cover that envelopes the whole case. Clever touch!

 

Capdase mKeeper

There is a big selection of camera bags at LoveCases for Canon and other SLR Camera Cases!

Review: Synology DS410 8TB NAS

Storage vendors should come to me for heavy duty testing, I have way too much hard disks break down on me. Last year my 4TB Lacie drive died. It’s a good thing I’m paranoid about data storage and I had 2 copies of my photo archive (now about 1.4 TB) elsewhere. Although my Lacie drive had ‘protected’ storage, after repair it came back reformatted. I decided to never buy Lacie anymore – I have had a 1TB, 2TB and a 4TB drive and they have all broken down at some point. My next storage solution would be a stand-alone NAS with 4 disks!

After reading some reviews on QNAP and Synology, I decided on the Synology DS410. I ordered it at Memoryshop for a decent price and some days later it was shipped to me together with 4 Samsung 2TB drives. Installation is swift and uneventful. I configured it as one big 6TB RAID-5 volume and started copying all my pictures, music and movies. The device comes with the shares /music, /video and /pictures preconfigured, and copying to these folders makes sense, because then the music appears in the handy iTunes server, and all media shows up in the DLNA Media Server.

The advantage of a Linux-powered NAS is that it comes with a number of easy-to-install applications (Torrent Client, MySQL, LAMP stack web server) and you can even install, through ipkg, lots of standard Linux packages. On the QNAP server at the office, I have file sync tasks running at regular intervals and it works flawlessly.

If you’re serious about your storage (because you need it for your work), don’t be content with just an external USB drive. Invest a bit more to have a NAS you can trust. And also: never trust it 100%. I now have +- 16TB of storage at home so that I have multiple copies of everything and I also use Mozy cloud storage for my exported pictures (‘only’ 12 GB for the moment).

Review: Panasonic TX-L42E30E LCD TV

I bought and/or used quite some new gear the last couple of months and I’ve been meaning to write about my experiences and never got around to actually start. Because I like reading other people’s reviews before I buy anything, I’ll start writing my own now! Let’s start with the biggest one:

Why I ‘needed’ a new TV

When digital TVs came out, the price for full HD (1080 lines instead of 720) was very high. I remember seeing all those 2000€+ beasts and it just didn’t make sense to switch yet, also there was almost no source of Full HD video. Blueray was launched around 2008 and seemed more like a ploy to make you buy all your old films again in a slightly better format. However, the prices of Full HD has dropped a lot, and I had more and more devices at home that had HDMI outputs and 1080p output that I could not show in full glory. So I started shopping around beginning of this year.

I knew I wanted an A-brand, which boiled down to Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, Philips, LG or Toshiba. Shopping for digital TV is exhausting. Each brand  seems to have 150 different models which are sometimes hard to tell apart. I know I was thinking during the shopping: I wish Apple made TV screens: they would have a 32, a 44 and a 56″ model: just pick one. I wish I was able to say that I made a huge spreadsheet with all models, features and prices, created a N-variable price model and chose based on that, but honestly, I just picked one that looked nice in the shop (Vandenborre) and seemed like a good bargain. So I now have the Panasonic 42″ Viera TV. Vandenborre offered to come bring and install it, but I opted for picking it up in the shop.

Continue reading Review: Panasonic TX-L42E30E LCD TV

Track your (Synology) NAS when it’s stolen

When a friend of mine recently got his MacBook stolen, I quickly verified if I had installed Prey Project on each laptop/desktop PC I have. For those who do not know Prey:

Prey lets you keep track of your phone or laptop at all times, and will help you find it if it ever gets lost or stolen. It’s lightweight, open source software, and free for anyone to use. And it just works.

Yes, I had Prey running on each PC. And then I looked at my Synology NAS (DS410, 4 disks, 8TB raw storage). It could be stolen too. And it’s basically a Linux box. And Prey is available for Linux …

So I figured out how to install Prey on a Synology box:

  1. login via ssh as root
  2. install the ipkg/’Bootstrap’ module on your NAS server – (from forum.synology.com) and this is a list of the right bootstraps for the right Synology model.
  3. install bash shell – “ipkg install bash” (from forum.synology.com)
  4. install textutils – “ipkg install textutils” (from forum.synology.com)
  5. goto /usr/share and download the latest Linux version of Prey (wget http://preyproject.com/releases/...linux.zip ) and unzip it
  6. create an account on Prey and get your API key from your Account profile.
  7. create a new device (e.g. ‘NAS8TB (Syn410)’), indicate OS as Debian (it’s close enough) and get the device key.
  8. edit the /usr/share/prey/config file and fill in the API and device key
    # you can get both of these from Prey's web service
    api_key='yyyyyyyyyy'
    device_key='xxxxxx'
  9. now run the “bash /usr/share/prey/prey.sh” a first time – you should get a “-- Got status code 200! -- Nothing to worry about. :) -- Cleaning up!” response.
  10. now edit /etc/crontab and add a line
    5-55/20 * * * * root /opt/bin/bash /usr/share/prey/prey.sh >  /usr/share/prey/lastrun.log
  11. Now restart crontab in the following (non-standard-Linux) way (from forum.synology.com):
    /usr/syno/etc.defaults/rc.d/S04crond.sh stop
    /usr/syno/etc.defaults/rc.d/S04crond.sh start
  12. And it’s running! When your Synology is stolen, you set its status in your Prey account to ‘Missing’ and you will start getting email reports every 20 minutes. Because it’s a NAS, there is no webcam and no screenshots can be taken, but the external IP address will let you see where the device turns up.
    Remote IP: 78.29.245.xxx
    Private IP: 192.168.0.108
    Gateway IP: 192.168.0.1
    MAC Address: xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx

Would this work on a QNAP server? I’m guessing, yes.

Fax 2.0: because fax won’t die in the internet age

In one corner of my apartment: my fixed telephone line. In another my printer/scanner/fax device. Challenge: run a wire from one to the other, every time you rearrange the furniture.

Recently I investigated web fax services like eFax, WebFax, RingCentral but for a low volume user like me they’re too expensive. You pay a lot of money for having a dedicated phone number for you, regardless of the number of faxes you send/receive. But I already have a dedicated telephone number, only it is completely disconnected from my ‘normal’ workflow: email, web, news reader. I would like to receive my faxes in my Gmail, because I never delete mails. With 7GB+ email storage, I don’t need to.

So what I would like to have, and what I don’t think exists yet: a Fax 2.0 device at home, let’s call it the FaxaPorta. It needs power and a phone connection, and … that’s all. So let’s make it look like this (not uninfluenced by the Apple Airport Express):

Faxaporta mockup

Here’s how it works:

  • You plug the Faxaporta in a power outlet and connect to the phone plug.
  • The device has built-in wifi and will connect to the internet in that way.
  • You associate the device with your account on the Faxaporta website.
  • Now you can configure how it is supposed to work:
    • Incoming fax: send it to an email address as a PDF file, print it (you can connect a printer to the USB port)
    • Incoming voice call: take a voice mail and send it to an email address as a MP3 file, forward the call via Skype
    • Outgoing fax: behave like a network printer, or you upload a PDF file to the Faxaporta web site (it is then downloaded by your own Faxaporta device and sent over your own phone line).
  • But because your fax is now part of your web-connected world you can do cool stuff like:
  • When you get a fax/voice call, the Caller ID (phone number of the sender) is being matched with your Google contacts to add name, company and email of the sender.
  • The faxes your receive pass through Faxaportas service and are OCR’ed so that you can copy/paste the text on it (cf. the ScanR service).
  • The voicemails are run through a speech recognition service so that you get a text transcript together with the MP3 file. (Google Voice has this)
  • The whole configuring of the fax/voice service is no longer done on a silly small screen on the fax machine with 15 cryptic buttons, but online, from anywhere you want. New response message? Upload the MP3 file! New front sheet for outgoing faxes? Create it in a WYSIWYG editor!
  • You have an RSS feed for your incoming fax messages, one for your incoming voicemails.
  • You could even make a ‘better’ (more expensive) service for companies:
    • try to route a fax to the right person (depending on who sent it, on names that were OCR’ed in the document)
    • set up a Interactive Voice Response system through the browser (“For Sales, press 1”).
    • create a searchable fax archive
    • How about a fax ‘out-of-office’ service?

    Does the Faxaporta exist already?

    AC adaptors: standardize, please

    I was just cleaning up around my computer and I got annoyed again because of the utter lack of common sense hardware vendors seem to have in their choice of AC adapters (I’m not the only one, Douglas Adams wrote about it before).  I made a list of all the devices in a radius of 3m around me:

    Brand Product Plug Volt Ampere Watt
    Apple Airport Extreme (proprietary) 12 V 1.8 A 22 W
    Apple Mac Mini (proprietary) 18.5 V 4.6 A 85 W
    Apple iPhone charger USB + mini USB 5 V 1.0 A 5.0 W
    Asus EeePC 1000H Coax 12 V 3.0 A 36 W
    Canon Selphy ES1 Photo printer Coax 24 V 2.3 A 55 W
    Dell Latitude laptop (old) (proprietary) 20 V 2.0 A 40 W
    Iomega External USB disk Power DIN 12 V 1.5 A 18 W
    Jabra Bluetooth Jawbone headphones (proprietary) 5 V 550 mA 2.8 W
    Jabra Bluetooth headphones mini USB 5 V 180 mA 0.9 W
    Logitech Bluetooth headphones Coax 6.5 V 250 mA 1.6 W
    Netgear Cable router Coax 15 V 1.2 A 18 W
    Netgear External network disk Coax 12 V 5.0 A 60 W
    Nintendo Gameboy (proprietary) 5.2 V 320 mA 1.7 W
    Nokia GSM Charger N-series Nokia plug small 5 V 890 mA 4.5 W
    Nokia GSM Charger pre-N-series Nokia plug big 3.7 V 355 mA 1.3 W
    QPS Digital photo frame Coax 12 V 3.0 A 36 W
    Trekstor External USB disk Coax 12 V 2.0 A 24 W
    Tulip Laptop Coax 19 V 3.4 A 65 W

    Continue reading AC adaptors: standardize, please

    Touched by the iPod

    Apple iPod TouchAs most geeks in my circle of friends, I am known to buy hardware slightly more often than the average Joe. I have 3 Wifi routers at home (just gave away my 4th one), I have more than 2TB of hard disk storage, split out over half a dozen of PCs and devices, and I have more USB cables than teeth. But hardware that makes me *really* happy, that is uncommon. Don’t get me started on failing hard disks and non-functioning printers. So let me tell you about this new piece of hardware that I bought: the iPod Touch.

    No iPhone, thanks

    This is not my first iPod, I think I’m at n° 5. And before you start telling me “the iPod Touch is an iPhone, that can’t be used for calling. Why not buy an iPhone?”. Well, I don’t need a new phone yet, I’m probably gonna buy an iPhone in a year or so, when the GSM providers have reasonable data transfer prices, and there’s the price too: the 8GB iPod is slightly over 200 euro. The iPhone is 525 euro.

    Applications

    But this baby is really neat. It does music, sure, and video, like the previous one. But it’s got Wifi, a big, smart touch-screen, games, applications, and … From day one I’m using Google Mail (via IMAP), the Weather application, Google Maps. Then I started looking through the free applications on the App Store. So what am I using now:

    • Games: Dactyl, Cube Runner, BlueSkiesLite, Sudoku, TapTap
    • Stuff: iDoodle2Lite, WhiteNoise, Remote
    • Network: AirSharing, Speedtest, IM+, Palringo
    • Social networking: Facebook, AroundShare, GooSync, ShoZu, reQall
    • Info: BuienRadar

    I’ve just started using reQall, a kind of task list + shopping list, which allows you to add via the iPod/iPhone, via the web and via a IM (Gtalk) account. This looks promising.

    The games are not bad. Dactyl is strangely addictive, the movement sensors work really well with BlueSkiesLite, … I expect to see some killer iPod/iPhone games in the future.

    The only thing I miss now is a good sync with my Google Calendar. iTunes can sync my iPod contacts with Google Mail, but not my calendar. GooSync is supposed to be able to do that, but I can’t get it to work. Of course Apple wants me to use (paid) MobileMe, but I want to see if I can find a free way first.

    In any case, I discover a new use every day. It’s … exciting, actually.

    Continue reading Touched by the iPod