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February 29, 2008

Diving into network storage

How quickly Bleeding Edge's eagerness to dive into technology's inviting seas can get us into an area that's outside the flags, being sucked out into deeper and deeper waters … enjoying ourselves immensely.
The latest episode started in OfficeWorks, attracted by the $149 price tag on Seagate's 2.5-inch 160GB FreeAgent Go USB portable external hard drive – a slim, sculpted USB powered slice of storage – and the somewhat more bulky 750GB FreeAgent 3.5-inch model at $299.
Then we saw the 1.5TB Western Digital My Book World Edition II for $599. Given all those AVI files and RAW digital camera files we've been accumulating, the idea of having 1.5 terabytes of storage seemed irresistible at that price.
The salesman, who we realised later (how often does this happen?) didn't know what he was talking about, convinced us that the My Book World Edition was just the solution for anyone looking for a large external USB drive.
We should have known better, but we were in a hurry, so we handed over the credit card, popped the My Book World Edition II in the scooter's top box, and headed home.
The minute we got it out of the packaging, we knew this was going to be interesting. It's a large, fashionably glossy white box with two blue LED lights circling the on/off button. There is a USB plug, but no USB cable. That USB port is meant for connecting additional storage, like a USB key or hard drive. It ships, instead, with an Ethernet cable, which clicks into the drive's gigabit Ethernet port. Clearly this wasn't your standard USB drive.
It wasn't your standard installation process either, unfortunately. To begin with, when we popped the installation CD into the drive, it didn't autostart, and we couldn't find any files. We downloaded the installer from the Western Digital Web site, and accepted the standard installation procedure.

Things got even curiouser. After our new toy rebooted - it takes about four minutes to have a good yawn, sip a cup of coffee, and prepare itself for the day - we were totally bemused. The My Book World Edition has to be one of the least accessible products we've encountered.
It isn't what most people think of when they buy an external hard drive. The transfer rates (unless you've got gigabit Ethernet, rather than the 10/100Mbps version which most of us use) are much slower than for a USB 2.0 drive. But this isn't designed as a USB drive. It's a highly-affordable NAS (Network Attached Storage) box.
In addition to a couple of SATA hard drives which can be employed in either a RAID 0 (one large hard drive) or RAID 1 (two mirrored drives) configuration, it's got its own processor (a 200MHz ARM chip), 32MB of RAM and cut-down Linux operating system.
The packaging proclaims that the product's WD Anywhere Access technology is "a simple and secure way to access and share data, pictures, music at home, in the office and anywhere in the world – even when your local computer is off".
That assertion seems to us to put Western Digital at risk of action under the Trade Practices Act, because Anywhere Access is a cut-down version of MioNet, and MioNet is one of those patronising pieces of software that appoints itself as its users' conscience. It won't allow you to share music files, or for that matter, AVI files, whatever your legal rights might be.
But the MBWE is a highly versatile unit, if you happen to be one of those people who, like Bleeding Edge, enjoys tinkering, and doesn't faint at the very idea of a command line. You'd have to be prepared to do some relatively minor fiddling with Linux, but all the directions and commands are laid out for you on the Web, and the results are quite satisfying … although it might involve what appears to be a tiny risk of "bricking" your new hardware.
There's an international online community that has embraced the MBWE, and shared the secrets that make it arguably the cheapest NAS on the market.
You don't have to install the Western Digital software, and our advice is to ignore it completely. Since our initial installation, we've removed all traces of it.
Plug the box into a DHCP-enabled router on the network, then turn it on and wait for about four minutes while it starts all its software.
You can access the Web interface by typing http://mybookworld into your Web browser. The default user name and password are in the online manual.
You can then mount it as a network drive by typing \\MyBookWorld\PUBLIC into a Windows Explorer window. You may or may not have to use the default username and password.
To access your new NAS remotely, you have to create a new user. What isn't obvious is that to do that, you have to click on the File Sharing tab in the Web interface, and select User Management.
You'll use those details to install new firmware that will allow you to take control of that little computer nestling inside that massive lump of storage, and get it to do a good deal more than Western Digital apparently intended.
That will start you on a whole series of adventures, using Martin Hinner's instructions and software scripts, and information and links on other My Book World Edition hacking sites here and here.
You'll find yourself in a world of programs like SSH and Samba, and the Apache Web server. We'll explore some of them in a future column. Once we find our way back to the beach.

Posted by cw at 07:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 27, 2008

Please excuse our brief absence

Well, perhaps the interval between this and the last post was on the longer side of "brief". The truth is we've been wondering what to do with the blog. What with leaving the ABC and readers of the column not knowing that there's an online home for it, there seemed little point ...

And the new grand-daughter, Indigo, takes up quite a lot of the already minimal resources of spare time, to say nothing of the singing lessons - perhaps we should post an MP3 of some of our bass baritone efforts one of these days? - and the table tennis and the adventures on the motor scooter.

Anyway, the continuing stream of questions from readers indicates that there is still a need for a site like this, so we're going to try to make more regular appearances on the blog, and with the support of the incredibly loyal and knowledgeable team that runs the forum, maintain it as a valuable resource for Australian computer users.

The Age has very kindly agreed to add a little line to the column which directs them to the blog, which should bring in more readers.

I do feel that I have to acknowledge publicly the tremendous support The Age has given to the local user community by continuing to run a column which no other newspaper in Australia - and from what I've seen, no other newpsaper in the world - has had the courage or commitment to run.

Let's face it, the vendors, many of whom are major contributors to a newspaper's advertising revenue, hate columns like ours. We're firmly on the side of the user. If something doesn't work, we say so. If the consumer is being ripped off, we say so. If we can find a way for the public to save money by not contributing to the budgets of mighty and powerful interests, we'll let people know.

We take that ageing journalistic principle "without fear or favour" very much to heart, and we might have had to compromise somewhat, if we didn't write for The Age.

There's a cost, of course. Many companies - Telstra being the primary example - deny us information and try to silence us, to the extent of censoring us as a public speaker, threatening to call in the lawyers etc. And we don't get those nice little favours, those free tickets to shows and sporting events and the overseas trips that most of our colleagues accept as a matter of course. On the other hand, we suspect that they find it more difficult to meet their own gaze in the mirror than we do.

There's a lot more that we'd like to do. We'd like to see, for instance, a public resource that helped the average user, and small business in particular, save money and gain efficiency by using Open Source software, rather than sending so much money offshore to companies like Microsoft. If you'd like to support an effort like that, let us know.

Posted by cw at 01:31 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 13, 2008

Those with teeny weeny fingers, say "Kohjinsha"

I'm on hols in K.L. and of course, one has to look at gadgets. The gadget and PC scene does not seem as vigorous and bubbly as it was a couple of years ago. Could be the economy or could be early days for Chinese New Year.

Charles was quite enamoured by the milestone ASUS EEE PC. Inexpensive for an A5 type machine (compare that to similar offerings from the name brands like Sony, Fujitsu) and quick enough to run (unless you have the AnandaSim syndrome - typified by bogging down a machine within a day with all kinds of apps).

I saw a current model Twinhead PC of similar size - I have had a Twinhead before in the days of the monochrome LCD - it was a 386slc and I was pushing it to run Windows 3.1 (it was better as a DOS PC). My main gripe then was that teeny weeny trackball didn't work all that well after day one. Looking back, if we didn't move to colour (uh, you don't remember screens before colour? ) this would still be a good DOS machine.

Anyway the current model Twinhead looks thicker and much less pretty. It does have a hard disk instead of flash storage. I haven't seen it run.

But the surprise for me is the 7" Tablet PC Kohjinsha UMPCs that run Windows XP or Windows Vista. Priced in KL between 2299 and 2999 MYR (roughly divide by 2.9 to convert to AUD). Manufactured in Singapore by Kohjinsha. Double the price of the ASUS EEE but the touch panel would have cost a bit to add on and still not in the heady price range of similar VAIO.


Hmmmm. Charles?

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February 06, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year

Here's wishing a great and prosperous Chinese New Year of the Rat to all our blog readers.


Posted by Anandasim at 11:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 05, 2008

Wordpress XML-RPC Security Flaw

WordPress 2.3.3 is an urgent security release. A flaw was found in our XML-RPC implementation such that a specially crafted request would allow any valid user to edit posts of any other user on that blog. In addition to fixing this security flaw, 2.3.3 fixes a few minor bugs. If you are interested only in the security fix, download the fixed version of xmlrpc.php and copy it over your existing xmlrpc.php. Otherwise, you can get the entire release here.

Via: Wordpress Blog

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Posted by Stephen at 04:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Windows Vista SP1 and Server 2008

Microsoft have just announced that Windows Vista SP1 and Windows Server 2008 have been 'Released to Manufacturing' though due to some problematic drivers in Vista SP1 it won't be available until Mid-March which makes for an interesting read when the Windows Vista team state:-

And through the great work of our hardware partners, we now have 78,000 devices and components supported by Windows Update, up from about 34,000 in November 2006.

After running through 3 Betas of Vista SP1 myself, I completely agree with what Long Zheng states on his blog :-

Having installed SP1 RC Refresh 2 flawlessly, I can vouch for the improved Vista experience even if it’s a un-measurable amount. There is no reason not to install it, and everything you gain is a bonus.


Just because a pinhead number of drivers were installed incorrectly, and might take a whole driver reinstall to correct, all the other millions of Vista users have to suffer?

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Posted by Stephen at 02:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack