Drobo followup a few months later

I’ve had my Drobo for about three months now, and I figured it’d be a good time to post some followup thoughts. Here’s the scoop.

The Drobo is the first product from a young company, so I went into it expecting some growing pains. Indeed, there have been a few. But I can happily report that they’ve been resolved and it is now the device I hoped it would be.

The problems have been relatively minor – initially, the disks would never go to sleep (solved by firmware 1.0.2) and there was an occasionally pause when streaming video (fixed by firmware 1.0.3). I also had one scary moment in which I thought I’d lost all of my data – the Drobo refused to mount and OSX threw all sorts of USB errors. After a few hours of churning (and replaying the HFS+ journal) it appeared and all was well.

I’ve used about 810gigs of my available 1.1 terabytes. I’ll need to upgrade drives before too long, which will be a good test of that feature. In the meantime, I’m happy with having a single, redundant, giant drive to dump all of my data onto. It’s allowed me to unify all of my media into a single, giant, iTunes library, which would otherwise have never been possible.

Thumbs up to Drobo then, and onward towards glory.

 Blog Wp-Content Uploads 2007 06 Drobo-Left-Angle-1

MKV to MOV for big files

For most users, getting a matroska (MKV) file into Quicktime is as simple as installing the Perian codec. It makes things joyously simple. You can even do file->save as to rewrap your video as something else. Great!

It gets problematic when you have a really big (over 2gig) MKV file. QT will just crash! Oh no!

So, here’s my workaround. Not for the faint of heart.

Start by getting the current CVS version of MPEG4IP. You’ll need SDL and libtoolize to build it.

Also get mkvtoolnix and install that.

Extract the video and audio tracks from the mkv file using mkvextract:

mkvextract tracks <mkv filename> 1:part1.h264 2:part1.ac3

This will need to grind for a while, but eventually you’ll have your demuxed tracks.

Next, you need to use mp4creator to wrap the H.264 elementary stream in a proper mp4 box. You’ll probably get a warning about an invalid SEI message. Ignore that.

/usr/local/bin/mp4creator -create=part1.h264 -rate=29.97 “My Video.mp4”

Next, we need to add the audio. Unfortunately, mp4creator can’t handle ac3 audio. You’ll either need to convert the audio to AAC, and then use mp4creator to merge them, or use Quicktime Pro. I prefer the latter – open the ac3 file in QT, select all, copy, then open your mp4 and select add->add to movie.

Now, when you go to save, Quicktime will likely yell at you. You need to mark an in point a second into the video, and an outpoint a second from the end, and then select edit->trim. Then you can do “file->save as” and move on.

What a pain, hu?

Native Apps for Realz

Steve threw developers some love. Thanks Steve. Native iPhone apps, coming in February.


Third Party Applications on the iPhone

Let me just say it: We want native third party applications on the iPhone, and we plan to have an SDK in developers’ hands in February. We are excited about creating a vibrant third party developer community around the iPhone and enabling hundreds of new applications for our users. With our revolutionary multi-touch interface, powerful hardware and advanced software architecture, we believe we have created the best mobile platform ever for developers.

It will take until February to release an SDK because we’re trying to do two diametrically opposed things at once—provide an advanced and open platform to developers while at the same time protect iPhone users from viruses, malware, privacy attacks, etc. This is no easy task. Some claim that viruses and malware are not a problem on mobile phones—this is simply not true. There have been serious viruses on other mobile phones already, including some that silently spread from phone to phone over the cell network. As our phones become more powerful, these malicious programs will become more dangerous. And since the iPhone is the most advanced phone ever, it will be a highly visible target.


Some companies are already taking action. Nokia, for example, is not allowing any applications to be loaded onto some of their newest phones unless they have a digital signature that can be traced back to a known developer. While this makes such a phone less than “totally open,

Google gives monetizing YouTube yet another go

Maybe I just have a faulty memory, but it sure seems like we’ve heard a handful of stories since Google bought YouTube about their imminent attempts to monetize the service. But anyways, here’s another go, adding non-video ad content around the video content. They’re giving the content producer a cut, which is nice, but I imagine for most regular content producers the numbers will be insignificant compared to traditional advertising placement.

Sony makes my $350 book obsolete


Today, Sony released a revised version of the Reader product. The PRS-505 adds USB-mass storage mode (so you can drag and drop to it), a better control layout, and different color options. I’ve also heard that the screen is higher contrast, though I don’t see that verified anywhere. On sale nowish for $300. Get one. I love mine.

 Esta Content 0710 Sonyreader505-Lg

iTunes as your only media management tool

I know, I know, I just posted saying that I’m somewhat disenchanted with the iTunes Store (and just wait till I post my rant about iPhone 1.1.1) … however, iTunes itself is still my digital media jukebox of choice.

With that in mind, and with the impending arrival of an appleTV, I’ve decided to commit to iTunes as my complete digital media manager. Not just audio – video too.

There are two routes to getting video into iTunes. If you want the video to work seamlessly on iPods, iPhones and AppleTVs, you need to use something like Quicktime Pro or Visual Hub to transcode the video. This is a slow, lossy process and I have no interest in that.

Option two is to wrap the video in a Quicktime wrapper. This doesn’t touch the video data at all, just makes it look like a Quicktime file. It’ll still have XVid or Windows Media (or whatever) data inside. To do this, open the file in Quicktime, and do file->save as. Make sure to create a new file, not a reference file. The resulting mov can be dropped directly into iTunes. If you add the Perian codec to your appleTV, the files will work with that device as well (I hope, I don’t have a TV yet to test this with).

That’s great if you just have a few files, but what if you’ve got hundreds of gigabytes of video? You need automation! Other folks have created Applescripts to do this, but Quicktime 7.2 broke them all. So, I’ve created one that works with 7.2. Make sure you’ve got interface scripting turned on in the “universal access” system preference panel. Then just drop a load of videos onto this droplet and let it go to work.

SaveAsMov.zip – SaveAsMov script

From there, you’ll need to properly organize all your videos. Check out Doug’s Applescripts for Itunes page for a load of scripts to make this easier. I particularly like “set video kind” and “track names with incremented number.”

Dig it.

Amazon MP3 Service – Apple shouldn’t ignore this one

Amazon.com recently launched an MP3 music store, promising DRM-free 256kbit mp3s for less than the cost of an iTunes download. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention, but over the weekend I took the time to browse the service. Apple better not ignore this one.

First, let’s talk about the reasons that I normally ignore non-iTunes stores. First off, prior to this (and eMusic, but eMusic lost me years ago) the alternatives were all reliant on DRM-wrapped Windows Media. That meant no Mac playback, no iPod playback, and therefore, no Colin.

Additionally, most of the other stores have been strictly web-based, which compared with the all-in-one nature of iTunes is cumbersome and obnoxious. Amazon still suffers here, but they’ve done some clever things to work around it. By installing their download-helper application, you can purchase an album with one click, have the files downloaded in a batch and then automatically added to iTunes, with proper cover art and everything. That’s incredibly slick and makes the service far less clunky than having to click a whole load of “download now” links and then drag the files into iTunes.

The selection isn’t at iTunes levels yet, but they’ve got plenty of mainstream artists. Prices are almost universally better than iTunes – most singles are $0.89 and albums are $8.99 or less. I can’t help but wonder whether there’s any profit in this for Amazon.

Yes, buying still takes an extra couple clicks versus iTunes, and the web interface isn’t nearly as slick as iTunes, but saving a few bucks and getting DRM-free music is a pretty nice advantage. For the first time since I gave up CDs, I’m going to consider looking outside of iTunes for music – and I’m a fanboi! So Apple: don’t ignore this one…