Monday, October 30, 2006

Norm MacDonald, My Favourite Comedian


Apparently the beta version of Blogger is causing errors and freezing up people's browsers. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the unplanned outages over the past few days by Blogger, but I'm taking this opportunity to update my template. Thus, the blog will be changing over the next few days. I guess that's what I get for going beta.

Here are some of the changes I've implemented:
  1. Added a Downloads Section on the sidebar. Here you can download my movie list and a PDF copy of my honors thesis, generously hosted by my friend Adam.
  2. Added a few pictures in the sidebar.
  3. Removed the Flickr badge.
  4. Removed the Pandora sidebar
  5. Added a hierarchy/tree for my archives, which is much easier to use than the old school month by month links.
  6. Added a Top Albums section in the sidebar linking you to an artist's website
  7. Added a feedburner RSS icon
  8. Added working Atom and RSS feeds for syndication
  9. Added a Favicon
  10. Updated the Links section
  11. Updated some colors and changed the size of the fonts
  12. Fixed my hit counter, which was misreporting my hits for quite some time
  13. Removed the background image, mostly because I can't figure out how to get it back with this new template

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Intellectual Property Auctions: Hendrix

There is apparently a push to create a market for intellectual property auctions, which I am not quite sure how to interpret. Apparently companies like Ocean Tomo have set up auctions where you can bid for the intellectual property embodying a particular object, not necessarily the objects themselves.

Jimi Hendrix's entire music portfolio was up for auction and was purchased by a phone bidder for $15 million. Hendrix's music was--allegedly--the property of his manager, Michael Frank Jeffery, who died in the late 1970's. The beneficiaries of his estate are a number of charities in the U.K. Jeffery's estate put the songs up for sale to the highest bidder. But Hendrix's family--who believe that Jeffery never had rights to the music--is going fight: "Whoever bought this bought themselves the right to be a litigant."

The most common reaction I hear when I tell people about this story is how terrible it is that Hendrix's songs are being traded, and that the family deserves the money. Perhaps I've already been indoctrinated by the property rights-centric canon of IP law, but I think I've read enough cases to know that practically every party, often the author him or herself, is a rent-seeker.

In this case, it is difficult to identify the "good guy." Is the family trying to make some profit on the 600,000 records Hendrix still sells a year? Should the fact that the beneficiaries of the Jeffery estate include the Asthma Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the Kings College Hospital sway my opinion? The answer, I'm not sure and, frankly, I don't much care.

Courts and law professors often make character judgments based on the parties (and I suppose that's what good lawyers have to do). At any given time, a movie studio can be an evil corporation or a business held hostage. An author can be a powerless cog in corporate machinery or an unoriginal pirate. An estate can be a greedy rent-seeker or a deserving widow. Knowing just how fickle and opaque these characterizations are most of the time, I'm willing to suspend judgment in this matter.

An interesting aside on IP auctions: at this auction, a number of trademarks were also up for sale. This seems a bit counter intuitive to me because I always assumed that the sale, transfer or assignment of a trademark included "the goodwill of the business connected with the use of and symbolized by the mark.” If so, I wonder how smart it is to open up the sale of a trademark to anyone willing to bid on it without asking whether the buyer has any interest in using the mark for similar goods or services.

Friday, October 27, 2006

15 Reasons the Last 6 Weeks Sucked

  1. 11 missed Comcast appointments
  2. Four parking tickets, including a two-fer, for a total of $142.00
  3. The awfully predictable and undisciplined writing on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"
  4. Lack of internet
  5. "Family Guy" withdrawal
  6. Mets / A's World Series
  7. Forgetting to purchase shoe insoles and, as a result, not quite gellin' like Magellan
  8. CBS's "How I Met Your Mother"
  9. Defective network enclosures
  10. FOX's camera work during the World Series
  11. William Newmark
  12. Bob Ryan guest-hosting on PTI
  13. Trader Joe's
  14. Constantly forgetting to put new CDs in my car
  15. Almost getting killed on the highway--twice

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Netgear SC101 Storage Central Review

The third time's a charm . . . sort of.
I have recently taken an unplanned pilgrimage to the market for Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. These devices let you add more storage to your existing home network so that you can share music, movies, and other media with other computers or with devices that can stream content in your house. The key advantage to NAS devices are that they plug right into your router/switch, not an individual computer on the network.

I first purchased D-Link's DSM-G600 (reviewed here) and returned it because of a manufacturer's defect. I then purchased Linksys' NSLU2 (reviewed here) and was quite dissatisfied by Linksys' false advertising and the product's overwhelmingly poor performance, so I returned that as well.

I have purchased Netgear's SC101 Storage Central and, although it has some drawbacks, it is probably the best out of the three. Although with slight reluctance, I declare this NAS device a keeper.

I. Yet Another NAS Concept

Netgear has stayed out of the NAS market for a long time and the SC101 represents their first real attempt to capture any portion of the home consumer market. As noted in earlier posts, NAS devices come in many shapes and sizes and the SC101 is no exception.

As you can see above, the SC101 has 2 drive bays that can take 3.5" hard drives, which unlike the DSM-G600 that can only take 1 hard drive. Having 2 drive bays allows mirroring of your hard drives (RAID 1 configuration), but according to Tom's Hardware Guide, enabling this kind of setup slows down performance.

The drawback of this setup is that the SC101 has no USB ports available, which means you cannot add additional hard drives to your network later on.

The SC101, D-Link's DSM-G600, and Linksys' NSLU2 represent a spectrum of NAS concepts. The SC101 offers no expandability, but doesn't require to you buy individual enclosures for your hard drives. The drawback here is that you cannot add drives later on. Compare this with the NSLU2, which represents the other extreme. The NSLU2 is minimal and simply allows you to plug in whatever external devices you like. Occupying a middle ground is the DSM-G600, which basically gives you an internal enclosure and USB ports. The DSM-G600 is the best option theoretically, though the fact that the product line is defective means that it isn't a viable option.

II. Installation and Setup

I had two spare 200GB drives laying around (one from Seagate and another from Maxtor). Opening up the machine was very easy. On the front panel is a spring loaded lock that you can twist open with a quarter. The face of the SC101 pops up easily and reveals two drive bays. You don't need any screws; just slide in the drives and connect the IDE cable and the power connector. It's a snug fit, but the face of the SC101 does not seem to be set tight enough, which does make some noise from vibrations.

You turn on the machine and plug it into your network, then you have to run the setup CD. One possibly major drawback for some users might be that the SC101 only works on PCs running XP or Win2k. Although I use XP Professional, I can really see how this might be a point of contention for a lot of other users who use a mix of machines.

The other drawback is that you must add the drive manually to each and every computer on your network by running the install CD. This might make the SC101 a poor option for a small business that has several computers.

III. File Systems Revisited

I won't go into the same tirade I went into last time on how NAS devices require you to format your hard drives to a particular format, rendering whatever media you already have useless. The SC101 is no exception. Nowhere on the box does it suggest that it will reformat your drives or that it uses a peculiar proprietary IP-protocol. It turns out you do have to format your hard drives, information virtually hidden on the Quick Install pamphlet that comes with the CD.

The SC101 employs "Z-SAN" technology by Zetera. This format is proprietary, and Windows mounts the hard drives as "SFSZ" disks, which I have never seen before and have very little information about. I have also noticed that after updating to the latest firmware, the SC101 drives are now displayed as "DATAPLOW_ZFS" file systems. The SC101 lets you create one large virtual drive or multiple drives of different sizes, all independent of the number and size of the physical hard drives you are using.

At this point, I have conceeded that there are no good NAS options that have true NTFS compatability and I am willing to trade off this significant drawback in exchange for ease of use and strong performance, of which the SC101 has both. I figure I already have at least two spare hard drives that are wiped clean, so I'll just format them and move on from there.

IV. Using the SC101

During installation, the SC101 installs a SCSI driver on your system for these hard drives. When you leave your home network, the drives disappear from your "My Computer" listing. But the moment you log into your home network, the drives appear.

Windows XP creates an annoyance here because of its "Autoplay" feature. When the computer recognizes a drive, a status bar pops up scanning the hard drive and then a window pops up how you'd like to view the new media. This major pain has been mentioned on a number of forums and I am glad to say that Netgear's most recent software/firmware update resolves this issue.

I will mention that Netgear's process for updating your software and firmware is counterintuitive because you have to download and install the updates on each and every computer. And after an update, one of the drives won't show up or attach properly for a few hours. Buggy firmware as usual.

Once installed, browsing and streaming your files is a breeze, however. I can upload to the drives at about 5,000 KB/sec, which is more than I was expecting. There are no significant lags unlike the DSM-G600 and the NSLU2. Nor are transfers are interrupted when I or someone else on the network access the drive. I can also access both drives at the same time too. I have not had any problems streaming movies, music, or working on documents directly from the network drive.

V. Conclusions

I am still a bit skeptical about NAS technology, but the SC101 makes me feel a bit more secure about the data I am putting on these drives. I think this product deserves a 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Linksys NSLU2 Network Storage Link Review

In my previous post, I did a review of a network storage product by D-Link, which turned out to be not only slow, but generally defective. I still, however, need some network storage, so I have since returned the DSM-600 and have come home from CompUSA with Linksys’s NSLU2.

I. A Slightly Different Concept

The NSLU2 is much smaller than the DSM-600 because it is a different type of product. Unlike the DSM-600, the NSLU2 is not a hard drive enclosure—thus there is no space inside of the machine to put a hard drive in. Instead, the NSLU2 simply has two USB 2.0 ports and a single network port. Thus, you take your existing external hard drives and plug them into the back of the NSLU2 and then connect it to your router.

The NSLU2 also has no wireless antenna and, therefore, cannot serve as an access point or a range extender.

II. File Systems

I mentioned in a comment on my previous post that a significant drawback of the DSM-G600 was that it forced you to format any hard drive you connected to it and then use a Linux file system! Unlike an NTFS and FAT32 file system that Windows supports, a Linux EXT2 file system is UNREADABLE if not connected directly to your network storage unit.

So what does this mean?

First, this means that if you already have a few hard drives full of media you want to share, then you’re screwed because you need to erase all the data on the hard drive before you can “share” it. This sounds even dumber when you consider the fact that no one will want to purchase one of these products UNLESS they already have a ton of media that they would like to share. Is anybody out there saying, “Hmm. I have absolutely no music and movies or documents I need to share in my home network, so how about I invest in home network storage now?” What makes it even more infuriating is the way that companies market these products, saying that they allow you to “Share music, video, or data files” but neglect to mention that you’ll need to get all of those after you’re forced to format your hard drives.

Second, this also means that if you ever need to physically move your hard drive (let’s say you’re going on a trip and want to bring it home for the holidays), you’re going to need to not only lug around the entire network enclosure, but you’ll need a router wherever you go to hook the damn thing up. Moreover, you’ll need to bring the setup disks with you because the home network you add it to is completely unconfigured.

Third, if you ever decide to ditch the network storage box and still want your media on your hard drives, a Windows PC will NOT be able to read those hard drives anymore because EXT2 isn’t natively read on PCs. There is a way to recover the files using a Linux Reader utility, but this is very slow going (it can take days).

As you can see, the use of Linux file systems is a serious drawback of NAS (Network Attached Storage) today. The worst part is that the manufacturers do not list that they use EXT2 ANYWHERE on the outside of the box, and in some cases don’t even mention it in their product manuals. During setup of the DSM-G600, for example, it simply tells you that it is reformatting the hard drive without any warning, so quite a few people have probably lost all of their data thinking that it was going to be shared, not erased.

How stupid are the engineers who came up with these products? How near-sighted do you have to be to let something like this get through to the retail shelves?

Well, with all of these problems with file systems, I was quite delighted to see on the box of the NSLU2 the following message: “Supports Windows NTFS and FAT32 File Systems!” That would actually solve a lot of my problems.

III. Installation

I brought the NSLU2 home and plugged it in. The setup process was a little clunky and counter intuitive, and it was virtually impossible to figure out how to actually see the hard drives on my computer. I started out by plugging in the first hard drive I wanted to share. This was an NTFS drive. And because none of the product packaging says it will or will not erase my data, I did not put much data on the hard drive just to test it out.

Error message: “Unsupported File System.” I thought NTFS was supported, you know, based on the front of the packaging that says NTFS is supported. Apparently not. I plugged in another hard drive I had, this one with a FAT32 file system. Same error message. I plugged them into either port and nothing happened.

Oh and by the way, every time I unplugged a hard drive, I had to reboot the entire NSLU2 and go through the setup process again. I found this out in the fine print of the product manual which says, “The NSLU2 is not hot swappable.” That’s odd isn’t it? Every time I want to share something on a new drive on the network, I need to reboot the entire machine? That sounds counter to what Linksys advertised on their product packaging: “You can even plug a USB flash disk into the Network Storage Link, for a convenient way of accessing your portable data files.” Two things about this marketing strategy. First, is anyone really going to come home with a USB flash drive and then plug it into their home network if they need to reboot the entire machine and disrupt access to the other hard drive as well? NO. Second, who the hell is walking around with a USB flash drive that has a EXT2 file system on it?? No one, that’s who.

IV. Tech Support

I got through to Linksys’ tech support line, which didn’t require a long wait, but did force me to talk to technicians who had strong Canadian and Indian accents, which are virtually impenetrable, even by my standards. I finally got someone I could understand and he says, “The NSLU2 CAN support NTFS and FAT32 file systems, but not outside of the box. You’ll need to update your firmware in order to do this.” So I’m thinking that this is complete bullshit that it says it does support it, but actually doesn’t, but the other part of me thinks, ‘Hey it’s a quick download, so why not?’

I download the firmware and try to install it and get an error message. It turns out you need a hard drive attached to the NSLU2 while upgrading the firmware, and guess what, that hard drive won’t be recognized until your FORMAT the hard drive and erase all of your data. Thus, in order to have support for NTFS and FAT32 file systems, Linksys forces you to ERASE those file systems first. What a complete debacle.

So I decided I would just format one of my harddrives and then reformat it back to NTFS later on. I look at the release notes of the firmware and it says, “Port 2 only supports NTFS/FAT32. Port 1 supports EXT2 only.” What the hell? That seems quite arbitrary.

After the firmware upgrade, the machine would only recognize the Linux formatted disk, but not disks from any other file system. After an hour I figured out that the release notes were simply wrong because they mixed up the port numbers. Port 1 only supports NTFS/FAT32 and Port 2 is the one with EXT2 only. How can you manage to foul that up, too, Linksys?

V. Using it . . . sort of

Even assuming that I am willing to forgive Linksys for blatant and predator false advertising, and even assuming I am willing to use a machine that I need to reboot every time I swap out a hard drive, and even assuming that I am willing to format one of my hard drives using a Linux file system—I still wouldn’t be happy with this product.

First off, it is damn near impossible to keep this thing connected to your computer. The hard drives show up as network drives, but they keep cutting in and out. The performance is lackluster (2MB-3MB/second, which is atrocious for a wired home network).

Then I discovered something else. Lets say I have some music on network hard drive 1 and I am listening to it on my computer. I would be streaming a small amount of data from that drive. It turns out that if anybody on the network accesses either network hard drive 1 or 2 for any reason, all connections to the hard drive cut out for a few seconds.

What is the purpose of SHARING your media with MULTIPLE users on a home network when that same machine can only access one hard drive at a time and CUTS OFF all other users in doing so?

The answer: No purpose at all.

VI. Conclusion

Linksys’s NSLU2 is quite possibly one of the most horrific products I have ever purchased. It is false advertised, buggy, slow, and a general piece of shit (that’s an industry term). Needless to say I returned the NSLU2 to CompUsa immediately for a full refund.

1.5 out of 10. Stay away!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

D-Link DSM-G600 Network Enclosure Review

Two words: Great Idea

Two more words: Manufacturer's Recall

D-Link's DSM-G600 Network Enclosure is an amazing idea in theory. A network enclosure is basically an empty box that you can add a hard drive to. On the back of the unit is a network port and a wi-fi antenna. Thus, you can connect the enclosure to your router or existing network.

What's the purpose of this? You can share media in your entire house without having to leave your computer on all of the time. You can stream video or audio to any devices in your home as well. You can also get access to all of your files when not at home (provided you have a stable internet connection). The DSM-G600 also has two USB ports on its back. This enables you to plug in additional hard drives and make those shared on the network as well.

The DSM-G600 was bought for me as a gift. I put a 500GB hard drive in mine and turned it on. Setup was not too bad, and the drive was working for a few days. I did notice that even though the manufacturer claimed gigabit speeds, the performance was not much faster than a standard network connection. Either way, I was just sharing music, so that is not too bandwith intensive.

After three days the unit just shut off and turned back on. It did it again and again. And then, it didn't turn on again at all. The power switch was broken. I called D-Link and they were quick to tell me that my unit was defective. In fact, the whole line of DSM-G600's were defective because of a recall on their system boards.

What was their solution, you ask? "We'll ship you another unit." Hmm. Let's think about that one for a bit. This technician just told me that ALL of their products are defective, and now they want to send me a replacement defective product? I asked how they could ensure that this unit won't be defective and the technician said, "We can't guarantee that." On top of that, they wanted me to pay for shipping! D-Link can kiss my ass.

Well, after about two or three minutes of assorted varieties of verbal abuse, I told them to have a great day. I am returning the unit directly to Best Buy, where I purchased the product. It's amazing that Best Buy didn't pull the product from their shelves when they knew about it. Compusa apparently took the product off of their shelves 8 MONTHS ago because of this recall.
2.5 out of 10.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Authentication Security Codes

Security code verifications have been commonplace for a half a decade now, perhaps longer. You have probably been forced to enter in a series of characters when registering for a new e-mail address, IM screen name, or for a promotion at virtually any website. Security codes essentially combat against automated junk registrations that can flood systems, exposing those within a community to unwanted junk e-mail or other solicitations. But take a look at these two examples:

What I have noticed lately is that these security codes are getting quite elaborate--and increasingly difficult to decipher. So many of them have these ridiculous looking artifacts in them and are stretched so badly that they are practically beyond recognition. I think I have about a 40% chance at getting it right the first time. And on some sites, if you get the security code wrong, it throws you out and forces you to enter in all of your information again.

I understand that this is a feature designed to prevent fraudulent registrations, but I figure that if a literate human being can't recognize the characters, then the system itself is flawed.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Citi Rewards: "Thank You" . . . for letting us devalue your points

Citi has a fairly robust credit card rewards program detailed in an earlier post. However, like the steady decline of JetBlue's rewards program, Citi too has begun to tighten its belt.

Gift Card Price Change: On September 29, 2006, the required points to redeem $25 and $50 gift cards changed. The new point values are as follows:
$25.00 Gift Cards - 3,500 ThankYou Points
$50.00 Gift Cards - 6,000 ThankYou Points

There goes my habit of purchasing $50.00 gift cards at Shell. I suppose I'll redeem my points for $100.00 gift cards, which still generally require 10,000 points.

Go to hell, Citi.