Synology DiskStation DS412+

Synology DiskStation

Synology DiskStation

I think I’ve solved my storage problems once and for all. It’s taken me a while to pull the trigger on this purchase, but my previous NAS and its 2TB drive was almost full. The Synology unit is obviously way more expensive, but it does so much more, it’s not even fair to call it a NAS. It really is a full-blown linux server, and when you consider all of the software that comes pre-installed, and all of the software packages developed by members of the Synology community, there is really no comparison to any other product available. This particular model may not be for everyone, but if you are like me and have a lot of media (and are planning to have a lot more in the future), and have a number of devices you want to play it on, you can’t go wrong with Synology. Also, a 4-bay unit does a good job of future-proofing.

One of its features that I like the most is the web-based GUI. It’s a lot more convenient (and less overhead) than running VNC, and they have done a fantastic job of recreating a Linux desktop environment in the browser window. After you’ve used it, you’ll wonder why every server doesn’t have one.

Here I’m going to include some of my notes from when I set this up for anyone else out there who might run into the same issues I did:

  1. Permissions – First, if you follow the printed instructions that come with the unit for the Quick Setup, do not allow the autorun from the CD. Run the setup.exe maually and make sure to run it as admin (in Windows 7). Otherwise, it will appear to run and go off and do something, but unless you are running as admin it won’t have the permissions to install Synology Assistant, and it won’t do anything at all.
  2. Network Backup – I used the Synology to get around the restrictions that Windows 7 Home has on backing up your data to a network drive. Microsoft wants you to upgrade to Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate to enable this feature, but with the Synology you can easily set up an iSCSI drive in Windows and use it as the destination for your backup. You will need to run the Storage Manager from the Synology GUI and create separate iSCSI LUNs for each virtual drive, and separate iSCSI Targets for each PC on your network that you want to backup. Then you will need to run something called the iSCSI Initiator in Windows (from the Start menu just search for “iSCSI” to find it) on each PC, and point it to the iSCSI Target. Remember to size the individual LUNs to match the size of the hard drive you are backing up.
  3. Media Server – I have a first generation Roku that we use primarily for streaming music in the kitchen, and the Synology unit has made everything so much simpler. Previously, We were using Roksbox to play the music, which was okay, but it involved setting up a web server to stream the content, and installing MediaMonkey to create playlists. It was a hassle. With the Synology, you just install the Media Server package and it will automatically create folders for music, photos, and video. Put your content in these folders and they will be available to any DLNA media player on your network. Then install Roku Media Player and you’re done. You can also install the Audio Station package on the DiskStation and use it to create playlists. Simply go to your Library, right-click on a folder and add it to your Playing Queue, then go to your Queue and right-click on a song to create a shared playlist. The playlist will then show up under playlists on the Roku Media Player. If you have a USB speakers plugged into the Synology, you can also use it as a jukebox and use Audio Station to control it.
  4. Stress Test – Right after I got things set up, I wanted to see what this little server was capable of, so I started music streaming on the Roku, and had two ripped DVDs streaming on two different TVs, all at the same time. I left it running for a good ten minutes to see if there would be any buffering or other performance issues, and had no problems at all. I also tested simultaneous disk accesses after I got the iSCSI set up – I had backups running on both PCs over the network while also copying media from an external USB drive plugged into the back of the of Synology unit and had no issues there either.
  5. Cloud Backup – I haven’t fully explored all of the options available here, but one of the pre-installed packages is for Amazon’s Glacier backup service. I did notice a performance hit while this service was actively uploading files to the cloud, and when we suffered a power failure at the house, the backup did not automatically resume. Glacier seems geared for small businesses, but I wanted to try it to see if it worked as well as Carbonite because for the amount of data I backup, Glacier (at a penny per GB per month) would be significantly cheaper. For now, I will stick with Carbonite.
  6. Perl – I have installed the Perl package and set up a scheduled task to run a Perl script on a daily basis. This was pretty simple, and works very well. The only issue I ran into was that the Perl script itself must use absolute paths when accessing the file system. I couldn’t get any relative path references to work correctly, even when the output file was in the same directory with the script.
  7. Lastly, because we’re a Minecraft family, I did install the Minecraft package that is available for Synology. The DS412 seems to have the horsepower to run it fine (although I never tried with more than one user at a time), but I wasn’t able to copy my existing world over onto the DiskStation and have it load correctly. So until someone comes up with a solution for this, I guess we’ll stick with our current Minecraft server.

 The Family That Crafts Together

What started out as an impulsive addition to my son’s list of Christmas presents, has morphed into an addictive and all-consuming passion for crafting.  I’m of course talking about the insanely popular video game for the PC called Minecraft.  I must admit I didn’t fully grasp what the game was all about before I bought it. But after watching my son play it for a couple of hours (while I read the wiki and gave him pointers), I realized why the virtual world of the game is so compelling. I started having flashbacks to my college days, and the countless hours wasted in “deathmatches” in the early days of games like Doom and Duke Nukem.

But despite the similarities of its deliberately crude bitmaps, which give the graphics an odd retro feel, Minecraft is so much more than a first-person shooter. (In fact, we have chosen to play with the monsters turned off, and the game is no less compelling.) At its core, the game celebrates the creative rather than the destructive, and being able to easily mine the raw materials, and carry large quantities around with you, inspires no end of creativity. Want to build a castle on top of a mountain? That feat can be accomplished in an hour or two. And then it’s time to move onto the next challenge.

It is also, dare I say it, educational. It is a lesson in engineering, chemistry, and economics, disguised as a game. There are also some valuable moral lessons hidden there. For example, when my son decided he would loot one of the neighboring villages, and attack its inhabitants, the consequential hit to his own individual popularity meant that he could not trade with them when he later discovered that there were things he needed.

After just a few hours of solitary gameplay, I decided to up the ante a bit, and set up my own server so the two of us could play in a world that we could shape together. This is where the real addiction begins, as we collaborate on certain tasks, like planting a garden or raising livestock, while at the same time choosing our own projects to tackle, periodically sharing our progress with each other.

After a couple of days, a new rule emerged at the dinner table: no talk of Minecraft. Our incessant discussions of what we accomplished “in the mines” each day were leaving little sister (and mommy) feeling left out, and it wasn’t long before I was cobbling another PC together from spare parts, so the entire family could join in the fun.

Our daughter is just starting to read, and hasn’t had a need to write. Until now. We have been amazed at how well she is able to string together sentences when using the chat function to talk to rest of us playing in the next room or downstairs.

So, in the end, while this new hobby can be a bit obsessive at times, it does provide some unique opportunities for learning, and bonding as a family.

 Merry Christmas 2013

This is our eighth annual Pipes Family Christmas card! Can you believe it? We let the kids take over this year, and they want to wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years!

 Great Britain

We just got back from two weeks in Great Britain. We took a Trafalgar tour that took us from London, through southern England, northern Wales, the Lake District, and finally to Edinburgh, Scotland. We saw some amazing sights and some truly beautiful scenery. The weather was perfect and the people we met on tour were great. It was an awesome trip. Here is a short video showing some of the highlights. I also have a number of pictures in my photo album.

 Birthday Girl Grabs Magic Ticket

There’s only one magic ticket swirling around in the booth — and it’s worth 1,000 tickets — but Josie made it look easy, snatching it within seconds. She was so thrilled, and just as surprised as the rest of us!

 More Basement Woodworking

Earlier this year, I started building a cabinet in my basement on the wall opposite my new bar. As usual, I used Sketchup to draw up my plans, and I neglected to post these at the outset of the project. Sketchup is a powerful tool, and fairly easy to learn. Using it to create models of things you want to build is a great way to save time and money. If you take care to make precise measurements when you draw your model, you can use it to figure out the cost of materials, and later as a blueprint to verify your measurements are accurate. I am currently working on some new plans for a major project in 2013 — stay tuned for more on that.

I did post a couple of photos back in June when the cabinet was nearing completion, but I had to take a break for a few months to work on other things. Its main purpose was to replace the hideous drywall box the previous owners had built to hide the water meter on the wall. It now serves as some extra storage space, and a decorative place for Sir-Drinks-A-Lot to stand. I am happy to announce that the cabinet is now complete!

 Merry Christmas 2012

We hope you enjoy the seventh annual Pipes Family Christmas card! As we celebrate “The Year of the Chicken”, we all want to wish you the merriest of Christmases and a very happy New Year!

 CCD Barcode Scanner

Are you tired of spending hours manually entering book titles into your own personal database? (Well, okay, if you’re not a home-schooler, maybe you’re not, but work with me here.) If you’re like us, you spend a lot of time going to the library to pick out book for your kids, and, let’s say for the purposes of this discussion, you also spend a lot of time keeping track of the books they read in some sort of database. What if you could just scan the books, like they do in the library, and have them magically appear in your own database? Well now you can!

For about $20, and the time it takes you to download a spreadsheet, you can automate this entire process and free up your time for things you really want to do, like reading my blog! First, crank up that Prime membership and order this barcode scanner from Amazon. There are scanners that sell for hundreds of dollars, but you don’t necessarily need to spend that much. This scanner works very well, although you might find it a bit challenging to configure. You will get hours of entertainment trying to read the user’s manual (written in chinglish), but all you really need to change is the default interface to USB, and enable ISBN scanning.

Next, you will need to create a free account at ISBNdb.com, which is a database of virtually every book in the universe. Once you have your account set up, you will need to generate an access key. Once you have a key, write it down. You will need it in the next step.

Finally, download my spreadsheet containing a macro that I wrote that will take an ISBN as input (either from the barcode scanner or manually entered) and then automatically query the ISBNdb.com site and automatically fill in the book title and author. Enter your access key in the spreadsheet and start scanning! It couldn’t be easier!

Now if we could just get the library to deliver.

 Garden Irrigation Project

In late April, we had a pretty impressive hailstorm, which led to us getting a new roof and new gutters. The timing was somewhat fortunate, however, since I had already started putting together a system for catching rainwater that we could use on our garden. I found a 300-gallon plastic tote on Craigslist for $100, and had the gutter company reroute the gutters on the back of the house and combined three downspouts into one that drains into the tank. I really had no idea how long it would take to fill up, and I was astonished at our first hard rain when it took less than an hour for it to fill to overflowing. Now I wish I had bought more than one.

The next phase was intended to avoid the hassle of dragging a hose out to the garden to water it everyday. So instead I buried a “perma-hose” consisting of one hundred feet of 3/4″ PVC pipe from the house to the garden, with splitters on both ends. At the house, short pieces of hose connect both the rain tank and the faucet, so we can easily switch between them depending on whether or not the rain tank is empty. At the other end, another splitter means we can leave the soaker hose in the garden attached all the time, and still have an open faucet for watering our other plants. Because our yard slopes away from the house, the garden is about six feet below the level of the tank, so we have a pretty good head of pressure — not bad for only being gravity-fed.

Stay tuned for the final phase, which is to hook up a 55-gallon rain barrel on the upper patio that we can use to water our herb garden and some other potted plants.

 Bird Versus Bird

I’ve mentioned before how much we like all of the wildlife we see on our property, but yesterday it was the source of some dismay as we watched this Cooper’s hawk try to make our chickens into a breakfast buffet. It is times like these that I am glad I used hardware cloth on the coop. As they say, chicken wire keeps chickens in, but doesn’t keep predators out.

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