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OWC ThunderBay 4: First Impressions

I recently began using the Other World Computing (OWC) ThunderBay 4 unit to add external RAID storage to my 2013 Mac Pro. As you may know, the 2013-2017 Mac Pro has limited internal storage due to its “innovative” design and the limitations presented by the computer bus itself (no second SSD possible). So, adding external Thunderbolt 2 storage is almost a requirement if you do anything interesting with your Mac Pro.

My ThunderBay 4 was acquired as a New-Demo unit and it came equipped with four (4) 3TB Toshiba drives and a SoftRAID software-RAID license. Because this chassis doesn’t include hardware RAID support, it’s a little more flexible and cost-effective than full-hardware-RAID versions.

The unit arrived quickly and came pre-configured with RAID 5, which allows the 12TB unit to have 9TB of usable space. I removed and reseated each drive and powered up the unit. While the Toshiba drives have a wide-range of online ratings and comments, I found them reasonably quiet, but the ThunderBay front panel had an occasional vibration that stopped when I touched it. The use of a self-adhesive pad to inhibit vibration would make sense there.

The SoftRAID product needs to be installed on your Mac, and there are trial versions on the website. I experimented with the Trial version while I waited for my delivery, and input the serial number from the ThunderBay 4 case sticker once that arrived. A new download then installed a ThunderBay-limited non-trial version of SoftRAID, and that will be fine for most people. I opted to upgrade to the full version, not ThunderBay-limited, and that was an additional US$99 for the upgrade, and involved an additional download and install.

I did a fair amount of research on different RAID levels because it had been some time since I considered which RAID level to use, and disk space has expanded significantly in that time. After a fair amount of reading (lots of opinions), I opted to reconfigure the TB4 as RAID 1+0, often quotes as the safest RAID if you worry about data loss. After running storage benchmarks using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, I decided that RAID 1+0 was not providing the performance levels I expected. Further reading pointed out that RAID 1+0 does not use a Write cache. My Write throughput was 350MBps, which was far below the advertised 550MBps of the hardware. At this point it was obvious I needed to go back to RAID 5. The advantages of more space (9TB versus 6TB) and better performance ( +40% ) more than offset the perceived risk of data loss in a power failure event. I am on UPS, anyway, and have seen the switch-over go flawlessly. What really impressed me was how little time it took to make the switch.

Switching from one RAID level to another means wiping out your data, usually. There are Conversions you can do, from RAID 0 to RAID 1+0, without data loss, but a switch from RAID 1+0 to RAID 5 wipes out your data. So you need to backup and restore your data. I used Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) to do this to an ancient WD MyBook over Firewire 800 (using an Apple TB-FW adapter) and things went flawlessly. The RAID change itself took very little time, and the restore of the backup with CCC was flawless.

So, what do I think? As a person who has used Network Area Storage (Netgear ReadyNAS) and hardware-RAID for years, I’m impressed. I can launch large virtual machines from the TB4 and not feel like I’m waiting and waiting and waiting. The difference between a 20Gbps TB4 and a 1Gbps Ethernet connection is obvious, and you can certainly feel it. With Thunderbolt 3 emerging, you can imagine six-bay units are about to roll out, too.

Some math for Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt 1 was two (2) 10Gbps channels. Thunderbolt 2 combined those two channels into a single 20Gbps channel. Four (2) SATA drives, each of 6Gbps, would have theoretical throughput of 4×6 or 24Gbps, so having a 20Gbps interface to four drives makes a lot of sense.

SoftRAID payments are through OWC Holdings, so you can imagine there is some relationship there. I was disappointed to find the TB4-included license limited to ThunderBay units, but upgrading that limited license to a full license was a financial wash. I just think OWC should highlight that the included license is limited to better manage your expectations.

One side note: the SoftRAID “Certify” command is outstanding, and you should run this on any drive you intend to use for long-term storage. It will make two painfully slow passes through your disk writing random patterns to the storage and reading them back to make sure they are correct. Then a third-pass is written as zeroes. I have a 50% pass rate on the discks I have in my spares and I label them SoftRAID Certified and know to use the others as scratch temporary disks. Nice feature, but it can take days to do a large disk. Be patient.

I will provide updates as I gain more experience with the OWC ThunderBay 4 and SoftRAID, but it seems to “just work”. Pretty simple.

Elecraft K3S Transceiver: First Impressions

I’ve played with the new K3S for a little over a week now.
I’m still gainfully employed, so my hours of operation have been limited.
But, I think it’s probably the proper time for “initial impressions”.
First, the Elecraft people are beyond impressive.  Whether it was pre-sale advice, the offer of extra support when the radio arrived, or the way they approach continuous improvement, these folks are tops.  They would need to make a pretty crappy product to not have a loyal following just based on their own attitudes, and the products are well, awesome, too.I thought this was my first Elecraft, but I used a K2 briefly about ten years ago.  It was used, not functioning perfectly and for some reason I sold it before the magic took hold.  Instead, I’ve been using Kenwood, Yaesu and TenTec top-line rigs that I’ve found used from local hams.  Each of those righs served me well, and each change was an upgrade in technology and performance.The Elecraft K3S is a significant advance for me.  Over the years I had grown quite accustomed to use of the Orion II features, and in contests and DXing it was the best radio I’d ever owned.  But as the TenTec aged, and future service options seemed to be dimming, I shipped it off to the TenTec folks for service and ordered the K3S.  I went on vacation so the lack of a radio didn’t cause a nervous breakdown.  Hello, Disney.

I’m a DXer and a single-op contester.  I haven’t been the srious contester I was at one time, but I still value those skills in both operators and equipment.  So, I made sure to try the K3S in one or two contests, even if only for a few contacts.  The North American QSO Party wasn’t much of a challenge for the radio. Since *most* operators run without their amplifier, the signals tend to be better spread out, and since it’s mostly a domestic contest, it seems there’s a more casual element operating.  The Elecraft almost made HF seem “channelized” in that I’d tune in a signal and that’s all I’d hear.  One signal.  Tune again, one signal.  Tune again.  And so on.  I was starting to think it needed buttons like the car radio.  I experimented with the CW reader, without much luck.  I’ve seen videos of others using it, but never got it to work as well as my brain (no comments, please) so I quickly gave up.  Yes, I did the CWT and SPOT and all that. I will try that again some slow night.

I later tried the Worked All Europe.  While I operating the NAQP on 40m QRP, I did WAE on 40m at 100W.  I worked everyone I heard in one call. and although the bands were more crowded, there were no times when I had any trouble squeezing out the noise for the signal I wanted.  The filtering is pretty intuitive when you realize how it works, a usability improvement over the Orion. So, two contests of far different style, but in both cases I felt the receiver, the audio and the filtering were a vast improvement.

I started working to get my headset mic working.  Initially the audio was much too low for people to hear me, and I played with TEST mode and MONitoring to get that improved.  That made QRP possible again, and also made any call under power a one-call contact.  Pileup, what pileup? Very nice.  Audio from the recevier also excellent.

It too 15 minutes to get my computer software properly configured after the Windows 10 upgrade and the change of radios.  But everything that worked before the change works at least as good afterwards.  It took some time to get the K3 Utility on the proper port (USB), but once I had that up and running, things were better.  Loading CW memories and (rotating) Macros was easy, and once I realized what the button numbers were for the macros I was reprogramming the PF keys at an irrational pace. HI

I’ve only used the K3S on CW and SSB.  I never did get a decent DATA station going with my previous radios, but this one seems worth a try.  So, that’s my next challenge: getting on RTTY/PSK and getting my first DX.

So, this is a very solid transceiver.  This one (10072) is configured with both receivers having 2.8, 2.1, 1.0, 0.5 and 0.25 filters.  It includes the ATU and the 100W option.  It works really well.

There is a lot of talk about how expensive it is.  I hesitated because of that factor, but I don’t have one ounce of regret. And now you know why I’m still gainfully employed.  This is one of those rewards!

Wi-Fi Portable Storage Devices: First Impressions

As the cost of Solid-State storage continues to drop and the popularity of smartphone and tablet technolgies continue to climb, the need for portable storage has begun to emerge.  While Seagate and other suppliers have been offering devices in this marketsince at least 2009, the devices are just beginning to emerge as serious contenders for consumer dolalrs, and potential platforms for commercial Information Technology (IT) integration shops.

I purchased two leaders devices in an effort to better understand their potential and what challenges they might offer for IT professions.  I was also interested in how they might meed my consumer needs, including the challenge of hosting my 30,000 track iTunes library or my ever-expanding library of high-definition video files, including on-line training videos, conference proceedings and the occasional home movie.  Being able to take some or all of this along on a trip might go a long way towards reducing the stress of travel delays, assuming you have the access to power you will need at some point.  (You do have that power-pack, too, right?)

So, I’ve spent a week with an unmodified Seagate GoFlex Satellite.  I was impressed with storage capacity and ease of use.  The legacy Seagate, the GFS, offers 500MB of storage in a 2.5″ laptop disk drive.  In spite of the real drive, it claims to offer 5-8 of active streaming time on a charge.  I believe them.  I did many demo’s for friends and family over several days on the initial charge.  I only recharged it when I was expecting to do a formal presentation where I expected to have several in the audience accessing it at the same time.

Ease of use with the Seagate GFS is easiest at the playback.  You simply take your wireless smartphone or tablet (or desktop) and select the wireless access offered by the GFS.  Once you’ve completed that, you open your browser and type something like goflex/ in the address bar and you’ll see the very basic Seagate standard content-browsing webpage. Nothing fancy, and not effective when you have large collections copied over, but it’s there and you can use it.  It’s all based on Javascript and JQuery, so, well, software developers won’t look at the default screen for very long.  There is one group in Singapore offering a replacement firmware for US$35 that cleans this up a lot, and that represents about 15 minutes of a developer’s time, so you pick your priority.

The entire Seagate system is based upon an open source project, so if you are comfortable with cross-compilers and toolchains, you definately have an interesting platform to take along on your next trip – either to code a better interface or to stream the conference videos that explain how to do it.  Or both.

The Kingston I’ve had less time with, since it just arrived today.  The first thing about it is the size.  It is about 1/5 the volume of the Seagate GFS and smaller than an iPhone 5 (not that I’ve ever seen an iPhone outside a massive protective case).  The Kingston Wi-Drive is small, light and almost stealth.  When I connect this to a Linux computer, I immediate mount two filesystems:  KINGSTON and CDROM.  The Seagate GFS only mounted one, and you reached the second through telnet.

The challenge for the Kingston Wi-Drive is capacity.  The SSD promises better life for a given battery capacity, but Kingston make the battery smaller, and possibly too small.  The SSD is obviously smaller capacity than the current laptop drives, so my media files won’t all fit and I’d have to decide what not to take.  I’m not good at those decisions, so the Seagate might get more use.  I did find good references to the open source licenses on the Kingston, and there are posts that will point you to the source code for the device, so both of these choices allow the software hacker a chance to customize the device to how they want it.

Security is fast becoming an early question in the mobile space.  The Seagate doesn’t offer much in that area.  The Kingston says it offers WPA2 for the wireless connection.  For the consumer, this probably doesn’t matter.  For the commercial users, I definitely does.  Most professionals will also be interested in disk encryption so they can put Private and Secure information on the device and not worry too much when they do lose it in the seat of the train, plane or automobile.  I’ll be experimenting with these to see how easy they are to modify and how hard they are to enhance security.

Seagate is due for a product refresh to 1TB of storage, and that was announced at 2013 CES.  A tear-down suggests the interior construction is much better than the legacy model.  It’s been four years since the last model was designed, so this one should be better, faster and cheaper.  The Kingson, on the other hand, seems to be hard to improve near-term since it sports a 128GB SSD, and it will take time for 256GB and 512GB to drop to where they make sense here.

So, if you have more than 128GB to take along the Seagate GFS may be your best option.  If the Kingston works for you, maybe you just need a bigger iPad or smartphone to get the media on the device itself.  If you want to share with those around you, like the family watching movies int he back of the car, either one will meet that need rather nicely.  And each person can watch a different movie!  Now, that’s a vacation!!


Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra-6 Network Storage: First Impressions

I recently had one of those moments of illumination where you realize that something you were doing had gone beyond making sense.  Sure, I experience these moments pretty often.  This time it happened when I was adding yet-another Network-Attached-Storage (NAS) unit to my home network.  That would be Number Four.  Hey, when there was “one”, it made a heck of a lot of sense.  When there were two, I could easily rationalize it.  The third unit, well, that was borderline.  And the fourth was just crazy.  I spent the required number of hours setting it up, trying to keep track of what to copy where.  Making sure the right disks were in the correct NAS.  And then I realized I was out of power outlets and network connections and copying things from there to here just took forever anyway.  It’s time to refactor my network storage.

I’ve been using the ReadyNAS platform since Infrant was in its hay-day.  I’ve been very pleased with so many aspects of the ReadyNAS NV+ that it was natural for me to consider the Netgear ReadyNAS product line.  When a friend pointed out the NewEgg.COM special on the ReadyNAS Ultra line, I just caved in and decided to repalce all my existing units with a single Ultra 6 component.  In doing so, I could possibly resell all the existing units and pocket a nice piece of change.  But knowing that someday I might need to select Restore Factory Defaults and wipe everything out, it seems like I’ll hold onto at least one of the older units as my backup to my backups.

The ReadyNAS Ultra6, which I’ll call RU6 to avoid typing errors, arrived within 24 hours from the time I ordered it.  It is nicely double-boxed in brown cardboard in true OEM style, not the shiny retail packaging I was used to seeing with the ReadyNAS NV+ units.  There wasn’t much inside the box: the RU6, a power cord, a massively fat yellow ethernet cord, a CDROM with the RAIDar software and a sheet of paper that told you almost nothing.  I unpacked everything and rushed to my workshop to begin the migration.

On the bench, my first impression is the look of the unit is very stylish.  WHile the older NV+ is chrome and has a solid mass to it, the RU6 is black with thinner body panels and more plastic on the front panel.  I suspect this won’t hold up to rough handling as well as the NV+ units could, and that might be one reason the RU6 no longer has a carrying handle on the back.  “Use two hands and be careful” might be somewhere on that sheet of paper they included – look for yourself.

The hot-swappable disk caddy has a much improved release.  Netgear has abandoned the problematic sticky-pushbuttons with a slider switch.  It seems lighter-duty than the old buttons, but seems less prone to sticking and banging than the old design.  (I found a light but sharp tab on the old buttons always releases them, so that was never an issue for me, anyway.)  I swapped the new caddy into an old system and vice-versa and they seem to be swappable.

While the caddy can be swapped between the older NV+ “Sparc” systems and the newer RU6 “x86” hardware, the actual hard disk surface formats are different.  As a result, you can’t just take your existing RAID disks from the old unit and place them in the new.  So, that’s exactly what I did.  To my existing four (4) 2TB drives I added two new 2TB drives and populated all six slots.  What happens next frustrates a lot of new users, but didn’t surprise me at all.  Upon boot, the RU6 reported “Corrupted Root” and would go no further.  And, at the time, the ReadyNAS support site was down.  Thank goodness there are search engines and on-line product reviews.

I was able to power-up the RU6 while pressing the back-panel Reset button (just above the dual ethernet ports) and brought up the Boot Menu.  Pressing the front panel Backup button moved through the menu until I reached the “Test Disk” option.  One more press of Reset and the RU6 began to test my disk media to see if it would work.  It took about one hour per terabyte to test the drives, and all tested fine.  I then repeated the Boot Menu sequence to select Factory Defaults.  Most experienced users know this means “Abandon Ship! All is Lost!” – I think that’s on the paper, too.  Anyway, what this does is rewrite the firmware to disk and recreates the entire RAID volume. Which means it wipes out all your data.  You backed that up, right?  I hope you did.  I did.  The rebuld took all night and much of the next day, but it was uneventful.

The next step was to Register the unit.  When you attempt to do a System Update Firmware, you get this Register button every time until you register for support.  Well, it seems that many people get that button even after they register.  I was one of those folks.  I clicked through “Later” to proceed with a firmware upgrade (after I registered) but the Remote Update failed with an unspecified error.  So, I went over to Netgear and downloaded the firmware and began a Local Update.  This update, from RAIDiator 4.2.15 to 4.2.19 included a change in disk layouts to support 3TB drives.  Although I don’t have 3TB drives, I did want some of the listed bug fixes, so I upgraded the firmware.  But when drives are changed, you can expect a long wait, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Well, actually, I was disappointed.  It took a long time.  And there isn’t a lot of staus from the browser interface or RAIDar.  If you have the unit next to you, maybe you see more.  I didn’t.  Mine was two floors away so I didn’t bother going to look.  When the update compelted, the <dot>19 was ther after reboot and the Register buttons were gone.  Great.

So, let’s assume you have an RU6 with less than six drives.  For example, an RU6 with 5 2TB drives will have 7.2TB of available space.  That means the various RAID options have a 28% space overhead by default.  When you add a sixth 2TB drive, an auto-magic expansion will take place.  Again, not much browser or RAIDar staus on this, but if you visit the unit you wills ee it display things like “Restriping 2.7%”.  That’s another long, slow process.  But it sends you an email when it’s finished. An email.  Not a text message.  An email.  Can’t these things Tweet?  Nope.

At this point you get an email that says there is a new firmware version, <dot>21, but you can’t interrupt the volume expansion so you wait to do that another time.  Have lunch, watch a sporting event, have dinner and come back and do the update.  Things should be fine.

Bottom line: It’s a great little unit, but active event status could be better reported.  The overhead of RAID is still pretty high at 28%.  But that isn’t new with this RU6.  That’s always true.  I think it’s very attractive and at 68W idle it’s much more energy efficient than running four NV+ units at 23W each.  Yes, I would do this again.

Now, I’m anxious to get those rsync copies going for the weekend.  And put those NV+ units on eBay.

16-JULY-2012 UPDATE:  The Ten Minute ReadyNAS Ultra 6 Memory Upgrade

I just returned from a relaxing vacation and figured it was time to upgrade the memory on my Ultra6 unit.  I just know the Factory Default of 1GB of RAM isn’t going to be satisfactory when I add things like the LAMP stack and the various add-ons I’ve learned to love.  So, I found a ten minute process to make the upgrade work for me.  Your mileage may vary and don’t blame me for things that might not work for you.  Once you take the screwdriver in hand, you agree to hold me free from liability for your problems.

1. Acquire DDR2 240-pin PC2-5300 Dual Channel memory.  You can make sure you have the correct memory by checking the /proc/cpuinfo file for the CPU and checking online references for what memory works with that CPU.  It is likely the proprietary motherboard in your NAS also supports that memory specification.  Mine does.  I selected two (2) 2GB G.Skill memory cards, a matched set from eBay that cost me US$35.  The G.Skill cards were DDR2 240-pin PC2-5300 2GB 1.8-1.9v with 4-4-4-12 timings. They might be overkill for an Atom machine, but they work.

2. Power off the Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra6.  Unplug doesn’t hurt, either.

3. Remove the two (2) rear panel screws that hold the side panel on the motherboard side. This is the side where the Ethernet ports are located.  I used an undersized Phillips screwdriver to protect against over-torquing the screws and they wre not heavily torqued to begin.  Just apply enough pressure to keep the screwdriver from slipping.  Slide the panel slightly rearward and pull it away from the chassis.  Place it in a safe place to avoid scratching it.

4. Remove five (5) or six (6) screws from the bottom of the now-exposed motherboard.  If you can remove the right-most screws only, that would be great, but the memory is on the right end and it was very difficult to align it without pulling that end out a reasonable amount.  So, I took off all six screws and had to carefully realign the board afterwards.

5. Carefully carefully carefully pull the right edge of the motherboard away from the chassis.  Do NOT disconnect any wires or plugs.  Try to keep the left edge close to the chassis and aligned.  Pop open the memory card end-tabs and remove the existing memory card. Make note of where the alignment slot is located so you are inserting the new cards in the same way.  (For me this meant labels down and to the right.)

6. Carefully carefully carefully align the new memory cards (you got two, right?), doing the left-most card first and snapping the locking tabs back into place.  Do not force the tabs, since the need to force them indicates you don’t have them properly aligned.  Make sure the cards are aligned as the original card was and are properly seated.

7. Carefully (did I overuse this term?) align the motherboard and reinsert and don’t overtighten the six (6) screws.

8. Reinstall the side cover and two screws.

9. Power-up holding the Reset button to run a memory test.  Everyone says do this a zillion times.  I skipped it.  What system actually runs with bad memory?  Don’t skip it.


RAIDisk:/proc# cat meminfo | grep Mem
MemTotal:        4044844 kB
MemFree:         3654408 kB

2012-12-03 Update: The Five-Minute Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra 6 Plus Memory Upgrade

I found two nice 2GB sticks of PC2-6400 4-4-4-12 DDR2 on Newegg for a reasonable (for DDR2) price, and can tell you the installation was trivial. You simply remove two screws that hold the side panel and the memory sockets are staring at you. The fit is snug, with one front-panel connector making for the only installation complication, but it didn’t take five minutes from the first touch of a screw to the last touch of a screw.

There is a lot written about whether this upgrade improves performance and whether it is supported by Netgear.  My experience with the first upgrade was Netgear Support asked me if it worked and thanked me for the information.  All the caveats about testing memory ten times seems like folklore, too, but don’t take my word for it.  I now have two ReadyNAS Ultra units running 4GB of RAM, using the memory and they both run great.  I think a 32-bit operating system should have 4GB of RAM, but that’s just me.  I still get a little chuckle out of the forum “helpers” who eventually come-out after giving scads of advice and admit they don’t actually own the unit themselves.  But they are trying to help.

SONOS CONNECT:AMP (ZonePlayer120) First Impressions


I’m certain I might be the last to know about the SONOS music distribution system.  Most friends follow my philosophy of seeing how cheaply we can accomplish things and have a collection of Roku SoundBridge and similar MP3 media streamers.  Yeah, they take some work to keep multiple units consistent (maintaining presets) but when they work, they are just a great and cost-effective way to get digital music where you want it in your house.  But eventually, you get tired of the Soundbridge with a separate amplifier and wires all over and the space and look.  And then maybe if you are lucky you discover the SONOS.

After helping a friend (over the telephone) get their SONOS system working after they upgraded their home network, I did some research into the system.  Wow, it seems very expensive, especially when compared to the Roku Soundbridge and Roku Radio units that I’ve used for so long.  I kept watching for discounts (never) and package deals where they don’t cut the price but they give you something for free, like speakers or a bridge or something.  This time around, Crutchfield showed the package that tempted me beyond my power to resist, and I jumped at the chance to get a SONOS CONNECT:AMP (formerly ZonePlayer 120), the Wi-Fi BRIDGE and a pair of small wired outdoor speakers.  Not a bad deal if you just needed a push.

Two days later the box arrived and I unpacked the SONOS CONNECT:AMP.  It’s compact, although taller than the online specifications suggest.  That was a minor issue so me, and I was able to pretty quickly remove the Soundbridge and the stereo receiver that was pushing my audio throughout the house.  I downloaded the iPad app for SONOS and in short order I had the ZP120 playing Internet Radio.  So, this is about as close to the simplicity of Apple to get-going, and I was impressed.

I wasn’t that happy when the SONOS would not locate my streaming servers.  Neither the iTunes or open-source servers were seen.  That’s when I realized that SONOS goes directly at your “shared” disk storage.  This is good and bad, I think, since now you need to actually have shared drives, and I didn’t.  But it was easy enough to use the MACOSX Controller software to make the iTunes music folder a share the SONOS could locate.  Once SONOS located the share, it took a fair amount of time to “index” the files, since the SONOS doesn’t seem to leverage any playlists of library indexes that exist.  At least, that’s my first impression.  After some time, I realized that this was a huge advantage, since I didn’t need to leave anything but disk storage running, and my Network Storage RAID is about as energy-efficient as it can get.

The SONOS amp is not as strong at the receiver amplifier was, so I find my in-wall volume controls need to be set higher.  I don’t think this will drive things to quite the levels I do when no one is home, but they are more than adequate for what I should be doing – reasonable listening levels.  So, I’ve settled on the SONOS at 75% and the wall dials at 50% and we’ll see where that leads.

The SONOS offers many opetions of paid music sources, including Pandora, Rhapsody and other offerings.  Those who own SONOS and can afford the monthly fees say they haven’t bought a song in the years they’ve owned a SONOS.  They can hear any on-demand.

What no one seems to talk about is the SONOS use of 2.4GHz Wi-Fi (not 5Ghz) and their use of a MESH network.  They also leverage Spanning Tree Protocol to prevent loops from crippling your combined Wi-Fi and Wired networks.  You probably want to do some research in this space if you plan a sophisticated installation, and that might cause you to update some of your home routers to current specifications (including STP support).

So, I’d say I went from wondering how they get this kind of money for their equipment to a devoted fan in about 24 hours.  I am already plotting to add a second ZP120 to another floor and a PLAY:5 remote speaker to the rear patio.  Hey, a hardware controller would be nice too.  I’m keeping an eye out for another package deal.  I think I’ll suggest one to them. You can be sure I’ll have several Roku units headed for eBay shortly.

11-JUNE-2012 Update: I enjoyed the first SONOS so much that I added a second unit for the Basement.  Now, the Basement hosts a small Linux NSLU2 that plays clocktower chimes through its Line-In, and I can play those anywhere.  I also added the iPod Dock.  Although the Dock doesn’t work with my pre-Classic Classic, it works fine with my later-model Classic, which is large enough to hold my entire collection.  So, several Thumbs Up for both the CONNECT:AMP and the SONOS:DOCK.

A word of caution.  When I connected the second CONNECT:AMP, I was worried the Wi-Fi signal would not be strong enough to reach it, so I connected it to the wired network.  Immediately, a Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) packet storm erupted and pretty-much broke the entire home network.  My aged Linksys DD-WRT router fell over from the strain, but my current model Buffalo DD-WRT routers were fine.  Eventually, I regained control of the Linksys, but it had been reset to all the default settings, which was quite a pain to endure.  So, the word of caution is to not connect these to ethernet unless you need to, other than a SONOS Bridge itself, and I feel the 2.4GHz proprietary Wi-Fi works much better than I expected.

Stream the Internet, your home music files or commercial music services throughout your castle and live like The King.

Legacy Commercial Gear in Home Networks


I have found it can be pretty effective to recycle legacy commercial equipment for use in home networks.  A few years ago I was buying HP JetDirect devices on eBay and using them to extend the life and usefulness of workhorse HP LaserJet printers.  Right now there is a LaserJet 4MP in my basement just waiting to print 600dpi monochrome printouts from any computer in the house.  It’s a JetDirect box that makes that kind of thing possible without requiring me to host the print queue on a specific operating system.

A year or so ago I noticed the IBM-branded UPS750TLV APC Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) units were appearing on eBay in pretty large quantities.  I picked up more than one (if one is good, two is great, right?) and began to use them to protect my home network equipment.  The first unit went into the basement utility closet where I house the ISP Router, my Home router, a Security/Automation system, and my network storage units.  A second unit was placed in my home office to protect the Mac and Linux machines that help me multi-task to the max.

I’ve never enjoyed walking around the house visually inspecting how the equipment was behaving.  I like remote access, and I love to be notified when something is not quite right.  For me, that meant finding an affordable way to add an ethernet interface to the UPS units, possibly with SNMP, email,  or Webserver support

The IBM eServer UPS units are rebranded APC models, so I hunted for the APC AP9606 Web/SNMP Interface card.  You can find these at ridiculous prices “refurbished”, or get an affordable one on eBay for about US$20-25 at the time of this writing.  The cards are low-speed and do not support DHCP, but they are useful in the home network if you know how to get them going.

Any job is easier with the proper tools.  For my work with the AP9606, I needed to purchase a special serial cable to the card, the APC 940-0024C serial cable.  I found this on eBay for US$7 plus shipping for a new cable.  Not a fancy or premium cable at that price, but the cable worked immediately and that’s important.  Locate a computer with a serial port and you’re ready to go.

I used a Linux system with a Serial Port Terminal program (like HyperTerminal) and set the parameters to 2400/8/N/1.  After connecting the AP9606 to the APC SmartUPS unit (IBM/APC750) I pressed the recessed RESET button on the AP9606 and hit the ENTER key on the terminal program 3-5 times.  At the User Name prompt you enter “apc” and for the password you enter “apc”.  Any time you get stuck and can’t access the unit, you can try this again, and it should work.

After gaining serial access to the AP9606, the first thing I do is update the User Acocunts so I can login again without hitting RESET.  You do this through the SYSTEM Menu and the USER ACCOUNTS menu.  There were two accounts on my systems, device and apc.  In some cases the previous owner had changed these, but I change them back to these.  I set the password to a known password for me, and save the change.

The second change to make in the serial console is to change the NETWORK setting for IP ACCESSS, DNS and GATEWAY.  Since this does not support DHCP, select a value carefully and make a note of it.  I get many used cards with the IP Address on a label on the card and I understand why.  It’s a good practice to know when address the card is.  NOTE:  If you buy a card with this label attached, try access the card in point-to-point from your computer.  It might save you buying the serial cable.

After I’ve set the login, password and network address I move away from 2400bps serial access.  After downloading the appropriate firmware binaries from, use “ftp” to access the UPS over the network.  Although this is a 10baseT card, that’s still a LOT faster than 2400bps serial.  After using the apc/apc login to establish an ftp connection, set your transfer type to BINary (“type binary”) and use “put” to transfer the new firmware to the AP9606.  Each time you do this the card will say it’s rebooting, although I’m not totally certain that it is..  There are two files you’ll want to add, in my case it was:

APC’s OS & TCP/IP Stack v3.2.5 aos325.bin

Smart-UPS & Matrix-UPS APP v3.2.6 sumx326.bin

Your best bet is to use your favorite search engine and you should get right to them on the APC site. Download them to you computer, change to the directory where you saved them and the ftp will be easy. If you get an error that the peer reset the connection, you forgot to set the transfer to binary. Try that again.

After using the serial console to set up the basics, and ftp to update the firmware, it’s now time to use the Web interface. Here you’ll find all the things the previous owner forgot to erase, like the address of their network management system, the contact names and numbers for their support staff and those kinds of things. My favorite option on this interface is Alarm Disable, since I long ago lost patience for every UPS you own letting you know the power failed and that’s why all the lights are out. You probably want to clear the Event Log of anything old, and update the Battery Replaced date if that was something you did with your UPS install.

My next hope is to get a local SMTP server set up so I can forward email alarms to my mobile devices (smartphone, tablet), but the AP9606 is up and running and working as expected.

So, how cost effective is this, anyway?  A refurbished UPS is around US$100 plus shipping, which includes batteries that should last five years.  The card adds US$25 and the cable maybe US$15.  So, for US$150 or so you can add a nice margin of remotely monitored protection for your home networking equipment.  I don’t see how you can go wrong at those prices.

I tend to avoid direct site links since they are hard to maintain, but searches of, and will most likely find what you need.

The 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator

I was very interested in exploring the 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator ( after reading about its use in camera-control in three-dimensional Virtual Reality sites.  It was published that sites like Second Life ( has enhanced their viewer to provide “joystick” support based upon the SpaceNavigator, and three-dimensional modeling packages, like the well-known Blender open-source product, were more effectively used with this kind of “joystick”.

After poking around eBay for two months, I decided the savings possible there were not worth the risk of second- and third=party sales, so I purchased the SpaceNavigator directly through, at a price just a shade more than the “discounters”.  The mouse was on my doorstep two days later.  That’s the new definition of instant gratification.

I use an IOGEAR KVM/USB Switch to share peripherals between my MacOSX and Fedora 16 systems, and I’d hoped this would be able to be switched.  Initial indications are the Fedora 16 driver is a little rough.  Under Fedora 16, there are many postings suggesting the 3Dconnexion driver is to be avoided, and the two open-source version in the Fedora repository are preferred.  I tried both, but was only able to make progress with the spacenavd version.  That version supports the expected systemctl command, including enable, disable, start, stop and restart.  I was able to see the driver output in /var/log, so I knew it was responding.  It does expect to see the SpaceNavigator connected, so maybe switching isn’t a great idea.  But I was never able to get the 2.4n version of Blender to see it.  The driver was producing a complaint about X11 and the 0.0 display, so I might have some basic configuration work to complete there.

The progress was better on MacOSX, as is often the case.  After installing the 3Dconnexion driver, Blender just worked.  I could spin around the default cube very quickly and smoothly, and all the expected zoom and pan controls were there.  I’m not an expert with Blender, really a novice at this point, but it seems an order of magnitude faster and flexible than the standard scroll mouse.

Using 3D viewers, like FireStorm for SecondLife, was not so great out of the box.  An avatar would jump and fly and disappear while you just tried to look around you.  But, the right-button brings up the system-level configuration and one or two clicks and things were better.  There are common “swaps” of behavior on the first two configuration screens, and those changes made a world of difference.  I quickly understood why you would have a profile for Blender, Maya and other applications.  Otherwise, you will forget.  Well, at least I will.

So, this test was partially successful.  I have it working like I want it under MacOSX.  I’m disappointed with it’s functionality under Fedora 16, but I haven’t given up.  I will work through those issues and post an update before next month (if things go well).