Random Short Take #72

This one is a little behind thanks to some work travel, but whatever. Let’s get random.

Random Short Take #71

Welcome to Random Short Take #71. A bit of home IT in this one. Let’s get random.

Random Short Take #70

Welcome to Random Short Take #70. Let’s get random.

Random Short Take #69

Welcome to Random Short Take #69. Let’s get random.

Apple TV (1st Generation) – A Few Notes (2022 Edition)

Apple TV (1st Generation)

It seems silly to be writing about a device that went end of life over a decade ago, but I recently came across a 1st Generation Apple TV for less than a price of a carton of domestic beer and had an itch that needed scratching. You can read about the Apple TV family of devices here. There’s also an Apple TV (1st Generation) overview here. I think I bought my first one in 2009 or 2010 – not long before the end of its usefulness, if I recall correctly. At the time (and to this day), I was fascinated by the idea of being able to stream content to a television from my computer. I’d messed about with cheap hard drive based streaming devices, and even have a Pixel Magic HD MediaBox sitting in one of my cupboards. This was my first foray into Apple-based media handling (beyond plugging my iMac into the TV). The 1st Generation device was cool in that it was able to store data locally on its hard drive that was synced from iTunes. Unfortunately, the hardware was a little underpowered for what you paid for it, and you were locked in to the Apple ecosystem when it came to content selection. By that time I’d already invested in iTunes for music, but the video side of the equation was still a ways away from the relatively seamless experience that it is today.

Enter The FireCore

It took about 5 minutes to realise that only being able to watch Apple content was going to be a pain, so I paid for an app (aTV Flash) from FireCore that effectively enabled the Apple TV to load software like nitoTV and XBMC. You booted off a USB stick, loaded some code, and then you could run the FireCore apps and the Apple TV code at the same time. I thought it was pretty neat, although it again highlighted how the Apple TV wasn’t that great a performer when it came to watching any real variety of media formats. That said, it handled music videos pretty well, and I remember it playing standard definition DivX without too much trouble. FireCore Support is still up on the website, and I was even able to login to my account again and download the files I needed to get up and running with this new box.

High Definition, Or More Than Standard Definition? 

I harp on a bit about the specs of the Apple TV, but it really wasn’t all that bad. If you wanted support for 1080p content, however, you really needed to install a third-party card: the Broadcom Crystal HD card (model BCM70015). FireCore support for the card is outlined here. You can view an installation guide here. There were a few different options for accessing the capabilities of the Crystal HD card, including using FireCore. I think I booted a USB stick running Crystalbuntu. There’s also an article on playing non-iTunes video that’s worth looking at.

Other Notes

You probably won’t be able to watch Netflix with it, even with the HD card installed and a working copy of XBMC. The native youTube app won’t work anymore either, I think. And there’s no chance you can log in to the Apple servers, or watch or listen to any of your content with modern versions of Apple Music or TV. I will admit, I have some old versions of macOS running as VMs, and I haven’t fired them up to see whether I could get iTunes to connect to the AppleTV at that point. Maybe something to waste a few more hours with on the weekend.

If you try to ssh into the box, you’ll likely get an error and you’ll need to configure your client to deal with a legacy ssh connection.

ssh -oKexAlgorithms=+diffie-hellman-group1-sha1 [email protected]

Once you’ve done that, you can login to the box and have a poke around. The username is frontrow. The password isn’t hard to guess.

Also, if you’re having trouble with the Smart Installer for nitoTV, you’ll need to track down a copy of MacOSXUpdCombo10.4.9Intel.dmg and ftp it to ~/Documents. You should then be able to run the installer.

 

Thoughts

I get what I need from my Apple TV (4th Generation) box nowadays via Plex and various streaming services, but my fascination with these little boxes that can connect you to various media sources remains a drain on my disposable income. Just as my Boxee box is no longer anything more than a fancy paperweight, so too has the utility of my various, older generation Apple TV devices waned over time. It’s not just an interesting lesson in the useful lifecycle of technology devices (“How dare I expect something to be functional after ten years”), but also an interesting reminder of how little control we have over the content we continue to pay the big studios for. I’m sure I’ve opined over the years about the number of times I’ve purchased Enter The Dragon and various Star Wars episodes on a plethora of different formats and resolutions, never really owning a “license” to consume the movie across various resolutions and devices. But the Apple TV (1st Generation) really brings home the fact that, even when I’ve purchased a copy of media from Apple, when and how I watch that piece of media is somewhat out of my control.

Hey, I’m not saying you need to be a weirdo like me and buy everything on physical media and then own multiple players of various formats. Heck, they’re just movies after all. And when you’re buying digital content from Apple they are reasonably clear about the fact that you’re really not in control of said media. But it’s nonetheless a scary thought to think about how much money we plough into this stuff. Just to have working devices sitting obsolete on the shelf within 5 years. Which reminds me, I should fire up my 2nd and 3rd Generation devices and see what they can do.

Random Short Take #64

Welcome to Random Short take #64. It’s the start of the last month of the year. We’re almost there.

  • Want to read an article that’s both funny and informative? Look no further than this beginner’s guide to subnetting. I did Elizabethan literature at uni, so it was good to get a reminder on Shakespeare’s involvement in IP addressing.
  • Continuing with the amusing articles, Chris Colotti published a video of outtakes from some Cohesity lightboard sessions that had me cracking up. It’s always nice when people don’t take themselves too seriously.
  • On a more serious note, data hoarding is a problem (I know this because I’ve been guilty of it), and this article from Preston outlines some of the reasons why it can be a bad thing for business.
  • Still on data protection, Howard Oakley looks at checking the integrity of Time Machine backups in this post. I’ve probably mentioned this a few times previously, but if you find macOS behaviour baffling at times, Howard likely has an article that can explain why you’re seeing what you’re seeing.
  • Zerto recently announced Zerto In-Cloud for AWS – you read more about that here. Zerto is really starting to put together a comprehensive suite of DR solutions. Worth checking out.
  • Still on press releases, Datadobi has announced new enhancements to DobiMigrate with 5.13. The company also recently validated Google Cloud Storage as an endpoint for its DobiProtect solution.
  • Leaseweb Global is also doing stuff with Google Cloud – you can read more about that here.
  • Finally, this article over at Blocks and Files on what constitutes a startup made for some interesting reading. Some companies truly are Peter Pans at this point, whilst others are holding on to the idea that they’re still in startup mode.

Random Short Take #61

Welcome to Random Short take #61.

  • VMworld is on this week. I still find the virtual format (and timezones) challenging, and I miss the hallway track and the jet lag. There’s nonetheless some good news coming out of the event. One thing that was announced prior to the event was Tanzu Community Edition. William Lam talks more about that here.
  • Speaking of VMworld news, Viktor provided a great summary on the various “projects” being announced. You can read more here.
  • I’ve been a Mac user for a long time, and there’s stuff I’m learning every week via Howard Oakley’s blog. Check out this article covering the Recovery Partition. While I’m at it, this presentation he did on Time Machine is also pretty ace.
  • Facebook had a little problem this week, and the Cloudflare folks have provided a decent overview of what happened. As someone who works for a service provider, this kind of stuff makes me twitchy.
  • Fibre Channel? Cloud? Chalk and cheese? Maybe. Read Chin-Fah’s article for some more insights. Personally, I miss working with FC, but I don’t miss the arguing I had to do with systems and networks people when it came to the correct feeding and watering of FC environments.
  • Remote working has been a challenge for many organisations, with some managers not understanding that their workers weren’t just watching streaming video all day, but actually being more productive. Not everything needs to be a video call, however, and this post / presentation has a lot of great tips on what does and doesn’t work with distributed teams.
  • I’ve had to ask this question before. And Jase has apparently had to answer it too, so he’s posted an article on vSAN and external storage here.
  • This is the best response to a trio of questions I’ve read in some time.

Random Short Take #60

Welcome to Random Short take #60.

  • VMware Cloud Director 10.3 went GA recently, and this post will point you in the right direction when it comes to planning the upgrade process.
  • Speaking of VMware products hitting GA, VMware Cloud Foundation 4.3 became available about a week ago. You can read more about that here.
  • My friend Tony knows a bit about NSX-T, and certificates, so when he bumped into an issue with NSX-T and certificates in his lab, it was no big deal to come up with the fix.
  • Here’s everything you wanted to know about creating an external bootable disk for use with macOS 11 and 12 but were too afraid to ask.
  • I haven’t talked to the good folks at StarWind in a while (I miss you Max!), but this article on the new All-NVMe StarWind Backup Appliance by Paolo made for some interesting reading.
  • I loved this article from Chin-Fah on storage fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). I’ve seen a fair bit of it slung about having been a customer and partner of some big storage vendors over the years.
  • This whitepaper from Preston on some of the challenges with data protection and long-term retention is brilliant and well worth the read.
  • Finally, I don’t know how I came across this article on hacking Playstation 2 machines, but here you go. Worth a read if only for the labels on some of the discs.

Random Short Take #59

Welcome to Random Short take #59.

  • It’s been a while since I’ve looked at Dell Technologies closely, but Tech Field Day recently ran an event and Pietro put together a pretty comprehensive view of what was covered.
  • Dr Bruce Davie is a smart guy, and this article over at El Reg on decentralising Internet services made for some interesting reading.
  • Clean installs and Time Machine system recoveries on macOS aren’t as nice as they used to be. I found this out a day or two before this article was published. It’s worth reading nonetheless, particularly if you want to get your head around the various limitations with Recovery Mode on more modern Apple machines.
  • If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll likely realise I listen to records a lot. I don’t do it because they “sound better” though, I do it because it works for me as a more active listening experience. There are plenty of clowns on the Internet ready to tell you that it’s a “warmer” sound. They’re wrong. I’m not saying you should fight them, but if you find yourself in an argument this article should help.
  • Speaking of technologies that have somewhat come and gone (relax – I’m joking!), this article from Chris M. Evans on HCI made for some interesting reading. I always liked the “start small” approach with HCI, particularly when comparing it to larger midrange storage systems. But things have definitely changed when it comes to available storage and converged options.
  • In news via press releases, Datadobi announced version 5.12 of its data mobility engine.
  • Leaseweb Global has also made an announcement about a new acquisition.
  • Russ published an interesting article on new approaches to traditional problems. Speaking of new approaches, I was recently a guest on the On-Premise IT Podcast discussing when it was appropriate to scrap existing storage system designs and start again.

 

macOS Catalina and Frequent QNAP SMB Disconnections

TL;DR – I have no idea why this is happening as frequently as it is, what’s causing it, or how to stop it. So I’m using AFP for the moment.

Background

I run a Plex server on my Mac mini 2018 running macOS Catalina 10.15.6. I have all of my media stored on a QNAP TS-831X NAS running QTS 4.4.3.1400 with volumes connected to macOS over SMB. This has worked reasonably well with Catalina for the last year (?) or so, but with the latest Catalina update I’ve had frequent (as in every few hours) disconnections from the shares. I’ve tried a variety of fixes, and thought I’d document them here. None of them really worked, so what I’m hoping is that someone with solid macOS chops will be able to tell me what I’m doing wrong.

 

Possible Solutions

QNAP and SMB

I made sure I was running the latest QNAP firmware version. I noticed in the latest release notes for 4.4.3.1381 that it fixed a problem where “[u]sers could not mount NAS shared folders and external storage devices at the same time on macOS via SMB”. This wasn’t quite the issue I was experiencing, but I was nonetheless hopeful. This was not the case. This thread talked about SMB support levels. I was running my shares with support for SMB 2.1 through 3.0. I’ve since changed that to 3.0 only. No dice.

macOS

This guy on this thread thinks he’s nailed it. He may have, but not for me. I’ve included some of the text for reference below.

Server Performance Mode

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202528

The description reads:

Performance mode changes the system parameters of your Mac. These changes take better advantage of your hardware for demanding server applications. A Mac that needs to run high-performance services can turn on performance mode to dedicate additional system resources for server applications.

“Solution:

1 – First check to see if server performance mode is enabled on your machine using this Terminal command. You should see the command return serverperfmode=1 if it is enabled.

nvram boot-args

2 – If you do not see serverperfmode=1 returned, enter this following line of code to enable it. (I recommend rebooting your system afterwards)

sudo nvram boot-args="serverperfmode=1 $(nvram boot-args 2>/dev/null | cut -f 2-)"

I’ve also tried changing the power settings on the Mac mini, and disabled power nap. No luck there either. I’ve also tried using the FQDN of the NAS as opposed to the short name of the device when I map the drives. Nope, nothing.

 

Solution

My QNAP still supports Apple File Protocol, and it supports multiple protocols for the same share. So I turned on AFP and mapped the drives that way. I’m pleased to say that I haven’t had the shares disconnect since (and have thus had a much smoother Plex experience), but I’m sad to say that this is the only solution I have to offer for the moment. And if your storage device doesn’t support AFP? Sod knows. I haven’t tried doing it via NFS, but I’ve heard reports that NFS was its own special bin fire in recent versions of Catalina. It’s an underwhelming situation, and maybe one day I’ll happen across the solution. And I can share it here and we can all do a happy dance.