Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Don’t Get a Drobo (Build a Server)

(image via wired - note, not a drobo.)

Maybe you don’t keep all your paintings on the computer, but as a photo (and more and more often, other digital media) based artist, I eat up hard drive space. It became apparent to me pretty quickly that if I was going to keep creating, and valued what I created at all, I’d need to find a way to handle long term storage.

As a side note, Burnable DVDs or CDs are NOT a backup system. Neither are external hard drives. They are both one level systems with extremely high failure rates. All it takes is one small drop, scratch, power surge, or relatively “minor” failure and you have no data. USB drives fail especially often. Every one. Even yours. Period. This used to be a PS at the end of this post, but it’s super important so I moved it up. Educate yo self!

The first point of this post is that a Drobo is not the way.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve also recommended the Drobo product in the past. After lengthy use, I’m revoking my recommendation entirely.

Make some kind of home server out of an old shell or buy something that doesn’t use a proprietary data format. Yes, the little “storage robot” is easy, but it is also practically impossible to troubleshoot on your own. The Drobo worked (on and off), but once the warranty is out (and you can only renew – with paying – for three years), all they will tell you to do is buy a new one if your unit fails. Even if the failing unit hasn’t accidentally destroyed your data, the hard drives and all your data are useless until you give in and buy a new unit.

In the time before this final issue, it had a huge failure once that shut me down for 3 weeks while they got around to eventually sending me a new unit. Does that sound frustrating? Here’s a rant I just sent to my father about my most recent problems.

I’ve spent the past 29 hours (literally, ugh) working to restore my backups from my external backup unit, which is on the fritz. I’m having to use my old tower case to build a server (basically) to take all the data (all my art work and information [including my accounting backups, which is why I haven't gotten to that yet, bleh]) which I have to then transfer it to – however, I thought I could use the existing hardware infrastructure (at least the motherboard, power supply, case, dvd, proc, memory and hard drives, don’t really need the video card or sound, which I removed) but it turns out after this long process including trying 4 separate operating systems (fedora linux, puppy linux, windows xp, and windows home server) the motherboard is shot and won’t recognize the sata drives.

Which means I can’t access my data, since I have nothing to move it to, and I can’t leave the old backup device on for too long without losing my data (Drobo – don’t ever buy one, it’s not worth the proprietary format it keeps data in, which makes it unreadable everywhere else. If you’re looking for a home backup server, I softly recommend one running Windows Home Server, which is what I now need to set up myself, since everyone in the house needs to be able to use it and beth doesn’t dig linux.)

So. Basically the only thing salvageable from the 6 year old PC are the case, dvd rom drive (which I have to open with a paper clip since the little motor is lagging), and the power supply. The memory and processor are fine, but are too old to work with any motherboards available on the market under warranty, and it would be stupid to buy a used one and open up a new bag of problems. One hard drive seems usable, but it’s over 6 years old and I’m sure it’s not trustworthy. Since it’s so small, it’s not really worth keeping except as on hand emergency replacement.

At 29 hours in, I’ve realized I have to drop around 350 dollars for a legal version of Windows Home Server, new motherboard, memory, processor, and hard drives (ide for operating system, and sata for backup – I don’t really need another one for long term, but I’ve got to have another during the original transfer process, since I can’t pull any from the drobo until most of the data is off. ugh)

I’ve opened up my case to try and jury rig a hard drive on the outside of the case (no more room in it, but some spare connectors on the mobo) and backup data to there, which will hopefully mean I have something to do my bookkeeping on in the next few days, but I can’t even order the newegg order for the new parts until friday when I get paid.

This computer thing has been a known issue for a while, but monday was the first day I’ve had off in around 15 in a row to even try and fix it. I was hoping the hardware I had would work (the old system has been sitting in our storage for a while so I could use it for something like this eventually) but the mobo just has too many problems. Building another server inside the case will take more time than buying one on the market, but their cases are smaller and functionality limited, plus they go for around 600 – which is stupid when I’ve already got a case, power-supply, and once I free them from the Drobo, a bunch of storage drives.

sorry for the rant, I’m kinda exhausted.

So yeah. If glancing at that block of text makes you feel tired and frustrated, then you don’t even have to read it. That’s the jist of it – computer issues and then frustration. Granted, a lot of the time spent there has nothing to do with the Drobo, but if the damn thing worked I wouldn’t be trying to scrounge up old motherboards to slap together a linux server.

Basically, it’s a lot less expensive and less of a headache in the long run (plus you get sweet features like network access, backup systems, and media serving to wireless devices) to just build a small tower server and set it up with Amahi, Ubuntu, or Windows Home Server. When the damn thing dies (and it will), you can figure out what part to replace or at least access your drives.

I guess you could buy one of those little Windows Home Server boxes that they sell everywhere, but I really think it’s worth it to spend a little extra time and a lot less money to end up with something a lot more expandable and customizable (mine is gonna have 6 sata slots and 1 IDE, and can totally be used as a desktop computer for office work, even play some games.) The easiest option, I think, is to drop 100 bucks on Windows Home Server (cheap for a windows OS! Try the free trial.) Here’s a good checklist for setting up the server or seeing if you have the parts to try one out. Here’s a rundown on a custom built server out of spare parts, over at Vidmar.

If a free operating system sounds better to you, there are a lot of good linux alternatives. Amahi, one I liked a lot, is free, slick, and runs in Fedora – requires some linux knowledge, but it’s all out there on the internet. Almost all these set ups can run headless, so you don’t necessarily need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

All those wires might look very intimidating to some of you less technical arty types, but I’m sure you know someone who can show you the basics. You could just follow the directions that come with your oem hardware (it’s how I learned) or have someone help you out. They could just build the basic system for you, then for hardrives (increasing your storage) it’s as easy as LEGO once you know what you’re doing. Well, with a little more screwdriver, but that’s just to secure ‘em in the case.

If you are a photographer who knows how to make platinotypes (looking at a couple of you), you can figure this shit out.

I’m not expert on this stuff (I only worked in a computer repair shop for one year, back in the 2001, so I’m dreadfully behind on a lot of knowledge), but I’ve had to put a lot of time and research into it and hopefully you can gain a little from my (often negative) experiences.

This is super important for any digital artist (and seriously, don’t kid yourself, you are a digital artist if you are a photographer). You may not have 4tb of information from numerous  sources, like data heavy video projects or huge ass film scans, but even your family photos and bookkeeping should have some data redundancy. It’s not that hard to add networked access and automatic backups to that idea, and it ends up being cheaper and less of a headache than going with one of those fancy proprietary external enclosures.

So that’s that.

posted by Een at 6:27 pm  

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Beth convinced me to let her pick a kitten, so we’ve got one now. She’s taking care of the expenses, thankfully (though in ga, they seem to be pretty cheap, actually we’re getting some shots in SC though because there’s a special on at a nearby vet there – new kitten shots for just 7 bucks on this one day.) He’s all black with a tiny white patch near his nether regions.

His name is Liam. It was almost Wesley, because he likes to hide in our bookshelf sometimes, but he nibbles (and licks) a lot, so we named him Liam. Only Mari will get these references, and probably only if she squints.

I’m glad Beth talked me into it, cause he’s been a major stress reliever this past day or so as I’ve dealt with some catastrophic computer related stuff. He’s perfect.

posted by Een at 5:49 pm  

Sunday, March 28, 2010


(via mbr)

god damnit, this is like my life right now. I’m suffering from serious physical world filter failure.

I need a time machine and the fountain of life just so I can get all my reading done.

posted by Een at 1:01 am  

Thursday, March 25, 2010

SPE 2010 Portfolios

Amy Stevens

I was too busy with work to make it to SPE this year, but was happy to see someone posting some photography seen at the conference. View more images over at Flash Flood.

posted by Een at 1:31 am  

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This Is How I Roll

Pictures by Elizabeth Heppenstall. Featuring Miles the Cat and David Strohl.

posted by Een at 1:31 pm  

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shoot Wonderland

Shoot Experience sent me an email letting me know about their next photo event. It’s themed around Alice and Wonderland – much like that fashion assignment I shot a while back. So if you’re in the UK and have a camera, this should be something you’re interested in. Check out the letter below:

Become a Shoot Experience Fan on Facebook to get free entry (worth £15!) for an extra team member at Shoot Portobello – an interactive photographic story-telling event where teams will re-create the classic story Alice in Wonderland.
Simply join our Facebook Fan page, and write on our wall to let us know you’ll be attending on 28th March - you could even tell us what we’d find down your rabbit hole!
Teams must consist of 2 or 3 members to claim a free place – as soon as you’re a fully fledged fan we’ll let you know how to sign up to our event so you won’t be late for that very important date!http://www.facebook.com/pages/London/Shoot-Experience/123860799505#!/pages/London/


Sunday 28th March 2010
11:15am – 6:30pm
posted by Een at 1:17 pm  

Thursday, March 18, 2010

David Field In HassyNYC

My commercial photographer pal, David Field (Website Here) sent me this message:

Since October, I’ve been asking everyone to rally behind me for the competition that I was in where the winner gets the $50,000 camera system. Well, the contest is FINALLLLY over with! Thank you so much for your support, which helped motivate me to go all out during each round of the contest.

Please help me this one last time by placing your final vote for the best photographer….preferably me!! Here is the link:

If you want to see the body of work that I created for the competition, go to this link and check it out. Click through numbers 1 – 10 under “my challenge archive”


posted by Een at 12:23 am  

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Meanwhile, At 315…

(by Elizabeth Heppenstall)

posted by Een at 6:20 am  

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Dance children! Dance for the robots! Do not let them see your fear!

(via Bad At Sports)

posted by Een at 6:15 am  

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Statement Of Purpose

I like putting images at the top of blog posts. Thanks g.

The response to my last post has been delightful. I really appreciate all those who have come out to discuss thoughts that seemed lonely at the time of writing. Obviously they’re pretty widely shared.

I’ve still got a lot of comments I hope to get to tonight (it’s a plague of the web 2.0 that I’ve got thoughts going on in so many different places on this – email, the livejournal feed, the facebook note feed, google buzz/google reader (it was copied from a comment I wrote on buzz. Apparently I use buzz a lot already, though you can’t see a conversation on there unless we are contacts.), the original post, and even a couple places where it’s been linked or re-d.

I’m seriously thinking of trying to condense, though I know people have their preferred way of reading. Maybe somehow make it so you can read it anywhere but the content doesn’t accept comments at some of those places (mainly FB and LJ). Mixed emotions on this. I think everyone would benefit from talking to each other and not just me. A separate post on this later, probably.)

Anyway, since the last post was a bit about artistic soul searching, I thought it might be an appropriate time to post this. It’s a “statement of purpose” (limited in size) that I’ve been working up since I’m looking at applying to grad schools fairly soon. This particular draft is actually dated from January, but I was just reminded of it today.

Eager to hear thoughts – it’s a very difficult thing to condense your entire “purpose” down to under 500 words, let alone one body of work or working method.

Statement Of Purpose

I often hear my peers say they desired to be visual artists because they felt a need to communicate. This may be a satisfactory goal to some, but I am intrigued by the less straightforward aspects of visual culture. Indeed, it sometimes seems the “1000 words” of an image are not meant to support any distinct message.

In my photography, I find myself using imagery to obfuscate my relatively direct perception, more interested in an aestheticized gray area than any one forced concept. The longer I stare at any picture, the more meaning I unearth, conflicting, harmonizing, layering as I delve into spiraling sifts of semiotics. In discussion, it is easy for me to be at odds with anyone believing they stand on firm ground.

I move my photographs around, discontent after a time with the cult of the singular image. I let the lines and moods reach past their frames and interact with other images around them. This increased awareness of context is pleasing to me. My pictures find homes in intimate books or large scale installations. They vibrate together.

While they are often taken away, to stand alone in publication or gallery, they seem lonely until I connect them with their new home and the other images there, be it a blog or gallery wall. The need to find this sort of connection has taken on a life of its own in my installation and website work, sometimes tumbling towards an obsessive deluge of imagery.

I take as much joy in others’ images as my own, though it sometimes surprises me when I find a true love. It’s often among derelict, lost on some corner of flickr or tucked into a trashy magazine layout. New context breathes life to the most humdrum image. I discover inspiration in comic books, images upon images in sequence, a parade of color. I ponder long over the aesthetics of catalogs.

My obsessions don’t sit well with me unless shared. I am most at home in energized discussion with others passionate about imagery. Critique is a place for me to push things forward, let the context of others take my work in directions I hadn’t yet discovered. Thus, I seek a program that stands firm on these social investigations and not solely technical exercises.

I grew up in the north, lucky enough to leave the Bronx for an excellent public high school in Amherst, Massachusetts. The South has been an amazing place of gestation. The warmth fuels artistic madness.

My goals may lie back in the cold, but also I hope to spread ideas wide – continuing to write and publish through the world, digitally and otherwise. A life aspiration is to see visual culture curriculum spread evenly through the education system, instead of only drifting to the studies of latter life. Our society is increasingly reliant on dissection of media and public schools lag sorely behind the advanced advertising minds of America. I hope to help.

posted by Een at 1:56 am  

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