The @Zoomosis on ZFS, tape, and external drives

A chat about LTO and Blu-ray burners last night lead to a discussion on The Bird Site about backups, something I thought was especially prescient given my post yesterday. I’m shamelessly quoting @Zoomosis' entire thread here:

Tape storage is something I’ve always been curious about but it doesn’t seem practical for home users since if the tape drive dies it could be hard to fix or find a replacement. Bluray may be a bit similar - This is the only SATA BD drive I have. Though they aren’t hard to find.

True, I hadn’t thought about that. I’ve got an Iomega Ditto drive out of pure nostalgic pointlessness, and I’ve used LTO at work, but I’d risk losing access if the drive itself vanished. The other issue is the steep barrier to entry: I’d probably need SAS not SATA, and the cost to even get a drive to read and write the carts discourages me, even if the carts themselves are affordable per gig.

Lately I’ve been pondering the idea of mirrored ZFS pools over USB 3.0 using inexpensive Seagate external drives. I’m not sure what USB 3.0 is like on FreeBSD but it’s worked well for me in Ubuntu.

USB 3 has worked great for me in FreeBSD for years, so I don’t think that’d be a problem. Whether it’s kosher or even a good idea though, I’d also built what I called a “stonehenge” of external drives with mirrored zpools on top in the past. I remember meeting a ZFS storage expert at a conference whispering to me that it’s not an ideal use case, but that it’s likely still more robust and reliable than using external drives with any other file system given its copy-on-write design. Then they said not to quote them by name… read into that what you will!

(As an aside, I miss talking about servers over a Premium Malt’s).

I ended up replacing my HPE MicroServer companion cubes with a dedicated Supermicro box with 8x SATA ports because I was tired of dealing with external drives, their various power bricks, and all the extra cabling. But whether I should have or not, I had them running ZFS for years with few problems. I say few; the ones I had were entirely my own fault when I bumped a drive or the power board to which it was attached. But again, being in a ZFS mirror meant I was able to resilver after the fact. Performance was okay, though I never had active workloads running on them.

I’ve also been known to use USB3 headers on motherboards and SATA to USB adaptors to gain a few extra internal storage devices. I can feel the second-hand worry and angst among the FreeBSD GEOM developers from here.

The biggest problem may be if the drives are SMR. You might’ve written about this already but a ZFS resilver or zpool scrub will tend to hammer both drives in the mirror which SMR is particularly allergic to, potentially causing SATA/USB timeouts. I’ll just have to experiment though.

Yeah, it sucks. I talked about it at a high level last year, but truth be told I’ve never actually used an SMR drive (inadvertently or otherwise). I was tempted by an earlier Seagate unit that was advertised as SMR to use for WORM applications like Plex, but gave up when I heard about its performance in RAIDs.

At the moment I just use XFS and manually rsync from one drive to the other, which works but isn’t ideal.

What is it they say, the cobbler’s child walks barefoot? XFS can at least have metadata verification enabled, and rsync does checksumming. If everyone I knew, family or otherwise, even had a backup regime like that, I’d feel infinitely calmer. We all know most people don’t even have a single backup drive.


Mix “tapes” in 2021

I’ve mentioned here my motivation to ditch streaming services and buy music with the money I saved. There are so many benefits:

  • You’re supporting artists directly, which is always going to be worth more than the pittance (if that) they receive from streaming platforms. I’ve long said these services “solved piracy” for the record labels, but made no practical difference for anyone else. That’s a topic itself.

  • You don’t have tracks, albums, or playlists revoked without notice due to the ever-shifting world of licencing, nor can they be replaced with ones you didn’t want or expect. A studio album version isn’t a replacement for a live recording, for example.

  • It puts more value into music somehow (for me). Buying an album, whether digital or physical, feels more intimate and real. Streaming music makes it feel disposable.

  • You can nostalgically burn or record them to physical media, or buy an LP, or a cassette, or a minidisc in the first place! Many new LP pressings also give you a code to download MP3 or FLAC versions to take on the go.

But there was another massive benefit I forgot about from the days where I maintained a carefully-curated iTunes library, and it’s one that this [clinically-diagnosed] OCD sufferer can really appreciate: you’re the ultimate arbiter of metadata!

This is important for three reasons. First, is usually proceeded by second… ah, so good. Second, you can fix up erroneous or inaccurate metadata that you’d be stuck with on a streaming service that can’t maintain your favourite artists as well as you could. I was bugged for ages that a Michael Franks album had a typo in one of the songs, and that another album of his was listed as “rock” with poorly-scanned cover art.

But third is where it gets exciting. You decide what metadata you want. If I want to set the genre of Esther Golton’s Aurora Borealis as “chill”, I can. If I want to subdivide my electronica into downbeat and synthpop, why not? It doesn’t matter if the consensus among fans or music critics is something else, or even if the genre exists. Clara’s the only other person who’d ever see this library, and it makes it more meaningful for us.

This also applies to playlists. I’m a huge fan of Palm Pilots and MP3 players like the iPod Classic and Creative Zen. Apple has made their original “widescreen iPod with touch controls” that happens to be a phone into a device that’s confusing and frustrating to use for portal music collections. The iTunes music store is similarly plastered with ads for the streaming service in lieu of what used to be recommendations. But I digress.

These classic devices don’t support each others playlist formats, which makes syncing a pain. But we have the solution already in the form of compilation albums, and who says only the record labels can produce them? It’s been fun creating my own glorified electronic mix tapes for various genres, including coming up with silly names and cover art to embed in their ID3 tags. Granted these compilations duplicate tracks in a way playlists don’t need to, but with my original 15 GB iPod and my Palm Lifedrive upgraded with 128 GiB CF cards, who cares?

That reminds me, I should write about how I upgraded those in the future too. Music is fun!


Repairability of laptops

I’ve talked about this in passing a few times, and I’m certainly not the first to point any of this out! But a discussion with a family friend, and their surprise at what the industry had become, lead us to hash this out. My hope is the current state of most laptops aren’t a sign of things to come, and that people are making responsible devices.

It was inevitable that most people would stop buying desktops and switch to laptops when the price was there, and that most people would treat them as an appliance. By which I mean a device you use for an expected period of time and throw away. Appliances didn’t used to be like that either, but that’s a broader discussion on disposable culture.

Then the trend towards soldered and integrated components picked up steam. Laptops made this way can be smaller, which is what the public wants in their bags. They also have the potential to be more reliable, owing to the fewer number of physical connections that can rattle or shake loose over time. You and I treat our machines well, but have you seen how the general public manhandle them?! In the case of systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) like the MacBook M1, huge improvements in performance and battery life can also be gained (albeit one that may have started to reach a ceiling based on the iPhone 13).

But such integration comes at a steep cost. The most obvious is serviceability, as pointed out by the right-to-repair movement. People without the financial resources to have backup machines can’t send their primary work device off to repair, and will likely be forced to live with a machine with a fault. It almost sounds silly and obvious spelling it out, but serviceable machines can be fixed. It puts control of the device into the hands of the user, should they require it.

A single fried or malfunctioning component on a motherboard can be enough to relegate the entire machine to scrap. Manufactures with specialised tooling to handle BGA packaging or de-soldering tiny parts still routinely see such repairs as a financial sink, and are more likely to scrap the device as well. Large companies love advertising their recycling chops, forgetting that the first two Rs are reduce and reuse.

I’ve (begrudgingly) come to accept a future of soldered CPUs and RAM in my laptops, but I agree with Michael Dexter of Call for Testing and the BSDFund that storage is a bridge too far. Unlike the former two, storage has the potential to contain things that are irreplaceable to their owner. Robust tooling like OpenZFS also exposes just how flaky and unreliable storage can be relative to other system components. It’s also something you can run out of.

(Detractors of removable storage—a phrase I never thought I’d write—claim this is negated by cloud storage and backups. I don’t begrudge people not trusting the former, and how many laypeople do you know have robust backups they test? The burden of proof is on people to make the case that its removal is a good idea, and I’ve yet to be convinced the pros outweigh the cons for consumers).

The good news is people are starting to take this seriously. I was pleasantly surprised to see just how many HP laptops rated a 9 or a 10 on the iFixIt laptop repairability score… that deserves being called out. The Framework Laptop’s modular, labelled components are a work of engineering art, and with a screen not saddled with PC Screen Syndrome for once!

I have to use Macs for work, but the repairability of a machine will be a deciding factor in my next personal device. Storage is not something I want to gamble with.


Nora Tindall on the modern web

Via her Mastodon account:

Imagine if we had put 20 years of effort into making the internet a safe and productive place for people to live their lives instead of optimizing dopamine output from each individual interaction

Let’s take this as a challenge, and not a sign of defeat :).


Feedback from my week 38 links post

Jim Kloss, Hugh Lawrie, Adam Spencer, and Rebecca Hales sent, tweeted, and smoke signalled that they liked the recommendations in my week 38 link post from the weekend. One of those people, and one of their communication methods, were a lie.

(What was that line from the Highlander TV series? “He called me a cheap person and a thief! I… was never cheap!")

I’ve done a few link posts in the past, though this time it was to cull dozens of accumulated draft posts. It’s a silly irony that for each post I write, at least three draft posts spawn than never see the light of day… or moonlight, if you’re as adverse to stakes through the heart as I am.

The feedback says to me that these posts are more useful to you as well than I thought too. I’m thinking I’ll post separate lists for news and tool recommendations, and not only so I can categorise them properly.

Recommendations is such a long word. Rebeccamentations?


Simon Whistler’s cat

From one of his recent design critique videos:

I had two cats. One was Sweep, one was called Tabby. She was called Tabby, because she was a tabby cat.
*points at head*
Big Brain.


Driving to West Berlin during the DDR days

Today’s Music Monday is tenuous at best, but you can’t spell tenuous without US. Those of you who know your World War II Allied powers got the joke, but I’ll bet it still wasn’t funny.

I’ve been getting back into modern German history again, specifically around the 1980s and the fall of the DDR. It’s a fascinating moment in time, one that even with thirty years of hindsight seemed so implausible and unlikely. My dad is German, and my grandmother’s side had specific family history tied up with that infernal wall and its surrounding politics, some of which explains my interest in digital privacy and overreach today. One day I hope to learn know more, and to have permission to share it.

But I digress! Yesterday’s DW documentary I shared about the Stasi and the Berlin Wall lead me down a video rabbit-hole and to a documentary video I never thought I’d see. Malcolm Brooke uploaded the official British Royal Military Police documentary screened to people before allowing them to drive through East Germany to West Berlin.

Watch BFG to Berlin

Everything about this is spectacular, from the 1980s-era graphics and music to the ominous British voices and advice. My favourite line has to be:

We acknowledge East German traffic regulations, though only accept Soviet authority.

Given how recently it was produced, it further shows just how unexpected the fall of the DDR was to the Allies at the time.

The World War II partition of the German state and its capital are far too complicated to discuss here, but the outcome was an Allied-administered West Berlin enclave within the Soviet-aligned East Germany. One could drive between the two on a pre-approved series of autobahns provided you were willing to submit to Allied and Soviet checkpoints on each side.

My dad told me it was rote and routine by the 1980s, but the idea of saluting a Soviet officer in East German territory before heading back to my car seems terrifying, despite the video’s assurances that there was nothing to worry about!

Anyway, this is a Music Monday post because I’ve had the low-budget electonica music from this video in my head all day. It sounds so upbeat for the topic it accompanies.


Links for week 36, 2021

A random list of stuff I found and read last week:

  • Am I Unique uses dozens of metrics to attempt to fingerprint your browser. One side effect using an unusual set of tools (FreeBSD, Mac, etc) was that I was pinged as unique every time.

  • This Deutsche Welle documentary on the Stasi and the Berlin Wall was chilling, though I couldn’t also help see the information vaults at the start as a cautionary tale.

  • OneTab is a brilliant Firefox extension that converts all your open tabs into an HTML file with a list. I’d got into the habit of using the built-in “Bookmark All Tabs” feature, but this makes it even easier to archive.

  • This blog has made it onto The Big List of Personal Websites! There’s some interesting stuff there, not all of which is about tech.

  • bit is an alternative interface to git. I fully agree with Ben Tsai, git is inscrutable and a poor replacement for hg and even Subversion. We in the industry sure make some daft decisions.

And some intersting articles (paywalled):


Rubenerd Show 418: The tiled pattern episide

Rubenerd Show 418

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

24:12 – Join Ruben as he pours one out for airline pilots, Australia being European in Asia, travelling with Clara, nostalgia for Singapore and working remote from there, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Bishan, introverts and Third Places, saying goodbye to a friend, Robin Williams, and mismatched tiles. Warning, I might even get half-serious at certain points this time!

Recorded in Sydney, Australia. Licence for this track: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Attribution: Ruben Schade.

Released September 2021 on The Overnightscape Underground, an Internet talk radio channel focusing on a freeform monologue style, with diverse and fascinating hosts; this one notwithstanding. Hosted graciously by the Internet Archive.

Subscribe with iTunes, Pocket Casts, Overcast or add this feed to your podcast client.


A 1 TB DIMM, with a clock speed of 2!

Sometimes I look for reviews and details on Amazon, even if I avoid buying from there if I can. The technical details for this DIMM were great:

Computer Memory Size: 1 TB
Memory Clock Speed: 2
Memory Speed: 2666 MHz
Memory Storage Capacity: 16 GB

Sometimes I feel like my memory clock speed operates at 2, and it ain’t ECC!