Drobo repair at home

Posted in Tech at 2 pm

My second-generation Drobo started sounding like a jet engine recently. I disconnected the 4-drive device and pulled each of the drives out, one-by-one, thinking that one of them must be going bad. Once the Drobo was empty, and the sound was still going, I figured that the fan had gone bad. The Drobo has been in service since 2009, so 6 years isn’t too bad for longevity of that fan, but it was a bit disappointing. I’ve considered getting a second Drobo for redundant local backup, but at this point I figured I’d look at what it would take to replace the fan myself.

Note: I am in no way an electrical engineer. I have a fun time taking things apart, but putting them back together is a roll of the dice. However, the noise wasn’t going to go away and as it sits under our TV, it wasn’t making for a pleasant home life. I decided to look for information on replacing the fan. Fortunately a few other more intrepid adventurers had already done a bunch of leg work, such as Samuel Tannous, and I want to re-iterate his thank yous:

Firstly a huge thank you to everyone who commented on this thread (http://www.drobospace.com/forums/showthread.php?tid=1608) on the Drobo forums, especially DroboLars for posting clear steps on how to replace the fan and j_hah for posting alternative fan options with specs, both on page 2.

As Samuel was working with a Drobo FS and I was trying to fix a standard 4-bay Drobo (no suffix) I knew there might be some differences, but I was able to work out that the fan recommendation he made was the correct size (92 mm), but as this is a few years later, I needed to order a newer model. The Noctua NF-B9 was under $20 at Amazon.

The larger issue for fan replacement is that the Drobo uses a simple two wire connection: a 12v (red) and a ground (black). More modern fans seem to have three or four connectors (for sensors and speed control). Fortunately, the user “blowhard_uk” posted to a Tom Hardware forum with the following chart of fan wire connections:

2 pin fan header
Black = Ground
Red = +12V

3 pin fan header
Black = Ground
Red = +12V
Yellow = Sensor

4 pin fan header (per Intel, cirac 2005)
Black = Ground
Yellow = +12V
Green = Sensor
Blue = Control

I’m guessing that these are all industry standards, but I can’t find any specific documentation for the two and three pin versions (which have likely been around for decades).

The biggest difference between the FS and my 2nd gen was that there was no power connection to disconnect when disassembling the device. Looking back, the tools I used were a medium sized Philips screwdriver, a wirecutter with wire stripping holes, and come electrical tape. So my steps were:

  1. Disconnect the power and the computer connection (of course).
  2. Pop out all the drives.
  3. Remove the 5 screws on the bottom of the case.
  4. Remove the magnetically-attached front cover and unhook and remove the plastic fascia from the front.
  5. Partially slide apart the interlocking pieces of the chassis, but watch for the fan connector.
  6. Pull the fan connector off the circuit board.
  7. Finish pulling the chassis pieces apart. One portion has the circuit board with LED lights at one end. The other half has the fan.
  8. Remove the back plastic cover on the fan portion. There are four clips in plastic that hook the back panel to the chassis. One of them is very tough to unhook, but it can be done.
  9. Use a long-shaft screwdriver (Philips works best) to push down the central stems of the plastic clips holding the fan in place at each corner. (These are used instead of screws because they handle the vibrations better.)

Now came the most difficult part: getting the wires cut and spliced together. I used a wire cutter to cut the white plastic header plus about 4 inches of wire from the old fan. I stripped off about an inch of the insulation of the wire from the black wire and the red wire.

I set that aside and opened the new fan. It had a few different extension cables, so I took one of them and clipped off the very end with the 4 pin plastic header that would normally attach to a motherboard. I was able to pull apart the 4 individual wires in the cable and stripped off the insulation from the black and yellow wires.

Now I had two cables, one with a two-pin plastic header and one with a 4 pin plastic header. I then twisted together the exposed wires from the black wires and taped the twist with electrical tape. I did the same with the red wire from the old fan and the yellow wire from the new fan’s cable. Now I had one cable with the proper plugs on each end.

Then it was largely a process of working backwards through the same steps to put everything together. I tested it out to make sure the fan was blowing OUT of the box and then put all of the drives back in and plugged it back into the Mac. It’s been running just fine since.

I hope I’ve added another couple of years to the life of this Drobo. But I really should be looking at getting a second one.


Immersive History

Posted in Career, Media, Tech, Uncategorized, Web at 10 am

Recently Tim Bray wrote about some new VR hardware and noted that the software was from Immersive Media, a company that seemed familiar to me. Bray noted that they were in Western Canada, but I seemed to remember working with a company in Portland that was doing 360+° video with that same name. Hurry Kids! To the WayBack Machine!


Huh, would you look at that? (Not for too long, mind you. HTML from that era was made with a combination of HTML 3.2, font tags and asbestos.) They were a client for a start up web agency that I worked with 1999 to 2001 called Exact Interactive. You can tell the site was done fast and cheap, they even took the discount for us to put our own logo on the site.

Let’s count the oddities on this single page, ignoring the “gateway” page. The GIF logos at the top are atrocious and I can’t fully apologize for the glowing white edges of the RoundAbout logo. Obvious it was originally supposed to be on white, maybe it was originally supposed to use a PNG with an alpha channel, but we had to fall back?

Hey look at that titled background, clouds and a ghost grid. What were we smoking? Maybe it was the fumes from the fixing agent used in the pre-press room we were next to.

Rotating wireframe dodecahedron Ah the dodecahedron animated GIF. Since it is a wireframe you can watch it for long enough and it will seemingly, suddenly, start rotating the opposite direction.

If I remember correctly, there was a math site that had an interactive solids demo that you could rotate via the mouse. I took screen captures of that interactive display, slowly rotating the solid pixel by pixel. I then gathered the screenshots, cropped them down and compiled them into Photoshop layers to align them. I don’t think Photoshop handled animated GIFs at that time, so I probably put them into “GIF Builder v1.0“. [Pause to look at the binary data…] Nope, it was version 0.5. Wow. Okay. Moving on.

And now the piece of resistance: The site menu, placed in the bottom right corner of the page template. This is worse than looking at my high school yearbook photos. Obviously a conscious decision to buck the trend of ‘normal’ or ‘correct’ or ‘rational’ design. IT does force the user to see the whole page in order to link to another page on the site. But ultimately it did not catch on. I cannot imagine why.

Ah the Wayback Machine, what would we do without you? Probably forget our mistakes for far longer.


Cross Contamination

Posted in Media, Tech at 9 am

We have a television from Planar Systems, an overstock display purchased through an employee discount. The TV was designed for a home theater installation, so it has a few quirks compared to most consumer televisions. One of those quirks is having two separate buttons on the remote for power. One turns it on, the other off. Most TVs, of course, have these as a single power on/off toggle button. But in Home Theater installations, this allows for external control of the display for an automation system. Because the automation system can send a specific state (on or off) there is never a concern that the systems would be out of sync. If there was only a toggle switch, then if the tv has a power failure or someone manually turns it off, the automation system would send the next toggle (perhaps to turn the TV off) and end up turning it on. The discreet pair of switches fix that.

However, I am not a rich man. I have no such automation system. What I do have is a TiVo and the very best TV remote control I’ve ever used, the TiVo “peanut-shaped” series of remotes. Like most remotes, it has a single power button, expecting to toggle the power. I looked through all the documentation for the Planar TV. There was no toggle command available. Discreet power on and power off were the only options. I called the tech support people, and since I was an employee there at the time, went to talk to The guy who handled all of the Planar Home Theater product support. There was no way to send a toggle. It wasn’t built to handle that, it was built to be part of a Home Theater Installation, for Home Theater Dealers, using Home Theater automation. A few more hours of research and I came up empty on the power toggle search.

The Pledge: In order to get the TiVo remote (which is programmable) to control the Planar display, I programmed the remote’s power button to send out the Power On signal. I then reprogrammed the Mute button to send the Power Off signal. Not a bad compromise. The green On Button works to get things going. The Mute button shuts the TV sounds off… along with the entire display. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but it worked.

The Turn: A few years later, Amy and I are buying myriad toys for our boy, with trains being the latest fashion. Wooden Brio-style trains are the rage, but the slightly larger Thomas the Tank Engine starter set in the “TrackMaster” style is also in there. At Toys-R-Us, the in-house brand of trains runs the same size as the TrackMaster Thomas, but with a twist: a remote control for the engine (with an unknown signaling method). Forward, backward, blow the whistle, stop the train buttons. But surely this remote would be RF (radio frequency) based, because an IR sensor on a train engine would be turned away from the controlled half the time on a circular layout. Right? Each turn of the track would hide the sensor… unless the sensor was mounted straight up?

Well, it so happened that the control was IR (infra-red) based, not RF. The sensor wasn’t set on top, the engine had two sensors, giving nearly 360 degree coverage. Playing with the new train was great as we set it up in the living room. Four trains on 10 feet of track is tough, but workable, except that every time we started the new remote control train, the TV turned on …and then off. On and Off.

It took a second or five to sink in, but after covering up the TV’s IR sensor (letting us play with the train for the evening) James was off to bed and Dad had a few minutes to experiment with the new toy’s unintended side effects.

The Prestige: So my personal holy grail of IR commands was found. The train’s remote control was used the program the TiVo remotes and now we have a fully functional TiVo/TV system.


Comment Spam Phrases

Posted in Meta, Web at 12 pm

It is interesting to see comment spam evolve and grow. Of course the money is in automation. I got an interestingly mis-configured bot come through this last week and left the following phrases. It would be interesting to study the misspellings (tortured as they are) and the language mis-use that is used to make them look more ‘authentic’.

  • Doubled letters
  • missing letters
  • missing spaces/punctuation
  • substituted letters that use near-by keyboard letters. (For instance ‘avout’ for ‘about’.)
  • additional letters that use near-by keyboard letters. (For instance ‘briong’ for ‘bring’.)

Then there’s the subject matter references. Often perfectly tuned to be interpreted as referring to the post, but complimentary to the author, to encourage the blog author to leave them.

The only trace of the spamming is the URL that’s pointed to in the username, the user web site or sometimes the email address. See the full list that I got below. (Though I worry that posting this will further drop the site in Google PageRankings. Oh well.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Why Facebook prefers Top Stories to Most Recent

Posted in Media, Web at 6 am

When using Facebook on the web or via custom clients, users see a primary stream of news/posts/updates/whathaveyou. There are a few ways to filter and sort the stream. The original way was simply Most Recent. However for the last couple of years the default has become Top Stories.

This shows the split between two types of Facebook usage: those who have Friended/Liked/etc lots of things/people/groups because “Facebook is the Internet” and those (of us) who use it to connect with a select number of people. The former have a firehose of items that cannot be read entirely and must be curated/culled, the later are trying to keep up with every single post from a handful of friends and family.

Guess which group sees more ads, clicks more ad/sponsored stories, spend more time in the ecosystem, are more “invested” in the platform, and are more profitable for FB? That’s the group FB is supporting, if they are smart.

The rest of us aren’t catered to, yet.


Apple OS unification complete

Posted in Apple, Tech, Web at 9 am

This week there has been discussion (John Kirk) (John Gruber, Daring Fireball) (Dr. Drang) about whether Apple will ever unify iOS and OS X. I say they already have. I can easily pull up a VNC client on my iPad and with some tweaks to the universal access preference pane and single window mode, I can have an OS X experience on my iOS device.

Today I have a GUI interface inside a Touch interface. (A TUI if you will.) It’s not perfect by any means, but with a few tweaks and some polish by Apple and it would be just fine.

And this isn’t the first time this has happened. Have you ever used terminal.app? Only a slim sliver of the Mac-using population ever have. But there’s one unification right there: a commandline on top of a GUI.

Both of the scenarios above are nigh on impossible to enjoy on an iPhone. But it works in a pinch. But on an iPad it is serviceable. And if there was a mythical iPad Pro? Then I might never buy another Mac again, except as a server.

Let’s take a fundamental digital era task: creating an event in a calendar.

I could use my mouse and keyboard in the calendar desktop app. (Traditional GUI)

I could open up a terminal.app window and use a commandline tool. (CLI)

I could run an AppleScript to create the event. (ASI?)

I could use VoiceOver and never touch the screen. (VOI?)

I could use the calendar app on my iOS device and only ever touch a screen. (TUI)

I could logon to the iCloud.com website and create the event through a web interface. (WUI) [And that might split into AJAX vs. REST techniques.]

To a certain extent the unification that people are talking about is simply a bit of polish and a tiny step forward. It sure is a good thing Apple never makes incremental improvements towards a larger vision. (AppleScript in Numbers) (Mavericks Full-Screen mode) (iWork Platform Independence) (iWork 2013 on Web/OS X/iOS)


Forcing the connection

Posted in People, Tech, Web at 11 am

Trying to connect @t and @StevenF on notes/editing tools github.com/panicsteve/w2wiki tantek.com/2013/331/b1/lose-data-apple-ios-notes-five-easy-steps This should go out via Twitter and Facebook (once approved), and WP is pinging Tantek’s post. Trying to be indieweb.

Note to Tantek: Perhaps change to Indiweb rather than inDIEweb? I would hate for Jorn Barger to get a hold of this.



Posted in Apple, Tech at 9 am

Yes I am a fanboy, get over it. You need to get over that the same way I need to get over the old world/new world computing stuff. So here is my plan for the iPad and my current iPhone w/ AT&T service:

I have always thought that $80+ per month for phone service was expensive. Particularly since I don’t actually do a lot of voice calling. So this July when my two-year contract with AT&T is up, my plan is to return to a pre-paid cell phone, pick up an iPad, and use my iPhone sans SIM card. My thinking goes along these lines:

1) My primary laptop a Powerbook G4 is getting too long in the tooth with missing keys, a dying battery and a hinge that’s about to give up the ghost. Instead of getting a new laptop, I would like to give the iPad a try since it does most of what I need. For extra storage, I have my Mac mini at home and with a good VNC client I should be good to go. Since most of what I do is on the web, rarely do I deal much with files. I will still have my old PowerBook, but the Pad should cover most of my needs.

Having an iPad means I can get a pay-as-you-go data plan which removes half of my iPhone needs. The other half is voice service, which could daily be delivered by a Tracphone or VirginMobile service. Both of these (when you factor in minimum cost of service to keep the phone active) get down to about $7/mo.

So I get the smallest possible PAYG phone, my old iPhone as an iPod, and an iPad for most of my web stuff. I drop my monthly costs from ~$85/mo to $7 plus the occasional month’s worth of data service for about $25. I carry 2 smaller devices and 1 tablet. I need to keep track of charging them, but that should cover my needs until a cheap PAYG plan for the iPhone is available that includes data service and bridging service.


What Apple Makes

Posted in Apple, Media, Tech at 3 pm

It seems that a lot of people are missing a fundamental aspect of what Apple sells. Simply put, Apple Profits on What Apple Physically Makes.

Anything that Apple licenses to sell through iTunes, or Apps they sell on behalf of third party developers are ancillary to what they manufacture. Apple will be profitable based on what their own physical products are worth in the market. Everything else is a break-even proposition. Look at Mac OS X or iOS and you’ll see that Apple nearly gives them away. The iLife suite is nearly free as is the iWork software. Even the Pro tools like Final Cut and Logic are deeply discounted from just a few years ago, taking down the prices of entire software categories in their wake. Someone call Kevin Kelly.

Apple makes money by selling high-end products. They sustain the rest of their digital ecosystem with just enough to get by, and little more.

Amazon and Netflix are only profiting what other companies own. If and when those companies learn to sell this material themselves, they will go away. Amazon is not just selling media that other people make. Excepting the Kindles, the company re-sells other companies’ products.

Netflix is already on the knife’s edge of failing due to their ‘partners’ pulling out of the licensing contracts. A pure digital play when they don’t own the digits. They may be able to coast along on the back of hardware that has them built-in, but even on those devices (Roku, Apple TV, PlayStation) Netflix is “just another app” that can be turned off at will.

Apple has done a smart thing by making their own destiny. If someone else figures out a better way to sell movies or music or apps, then all the better for Apple since it will allow them to focus on what’s making them money: their hardware. What they make.


On Remote Controls

Posted in Apple, Media at 7 pm

Daring Fireball linked to The Russians Used a Pencil‘s post speculating on the evolution of remotes. I wanted to note two items:

1) Battery life: I love the scroll wheel idea to replace the directional arrow buttons, but touch-based sensors have a serious disadvantage in the fact that they must have power running through them in order to detect the action of the user. That current is a constant drain and constant power drains are deadly for batteries. At best you could have a physical motion sensor (rolling beads?) that could wake up the remote when it’s moved, but touch sensors suck up the juice. No little lithium ion coin-sized battery would suffice.

The alternative is the original iPod’s physical scroll wheel which I adored in the very first iPods. That would be cool, but also an expensive proposition in manufacturing a remote control.

2) Bluetooth connectivity: Unless Apple comes out with a smart, free standard that can be used industry-wide to support multi-device control, Bluetooth in remotes is a myopic view of the real world. Sony has already caused a lot of headaches with having a Bluetooth remote for the PS3. There’s a lot to learn from that.

The reason for having an IR-based remote is all about having multiple devices be able to be controlled as a single entity. The simplest example is controlling the power and volume on the television that the AppleTV is connected to. If the Apple remote doesn’t support IR, you’re stuck with two remotes. Got an amplifier in the mix for surround sound? A DVD or Blu-Ray player? Now you’re talking input switching as well.

Apple’s going to have to come out with something truly interesting and unique and forward leading to stand out. I think they can do it, but I’m certain that these two technologies will not be in the mix unless radically re-thought.