Read Lag Problems on Seagate Freeagent 1.5TB External Hard Drive on Mac OS X

This is one of those quick posts that I write hoping to save others a lot of time.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to diagnose and fix problems I have been having with my external 1.5TB Seagate Freeagent Hard Drive.  I use the hard drive as my iTunes library, which I drive FrontRow using Mac OS X 10.5 on a Mac Mini on a 1080P LCD TV in the living room.

Basically, it’s our video server.

The problem was as follows:

  • Loading Front Row, we’d easily get to the list of movies (I have about 500+ movies on the system)
  • Flipping between titles, however, there would be a 3-5 second lag before the cover art and title of the new movie would load
  • The lag would also occur periodically while scrolling
  • The light on the front of the hard drive would pulse, instead of glow straight, during video operations

Needless to say, with a video library driven by remote, this type of lag is intolerable, and makes navigating a 500+ movie library incredibly frustrating.

After doing a number of Google searches, I found reports of read/cache problems on Mac OS X and Linux with the 7200.11 drives.

Here is an official note from Seagate on the topic, and here is a community thread on the issue.  Thinking I needed new firmware, and since there was no download on the website, I resigned myself to calling technical support.

I called Seagate Technical Support, and after waiting 20 minutes, I got on the phone with a man who had never heard of the issue, had no idea how to get the firmware for an external drive, and no idea what a Mac is.

Fortunately, while he put me on hold for 15 minutes on 3 separate occassions, I had time to think.

The problem cited on line was a read issue with video, but it seemed to focus on RAID setups.  That didn’t sound like my situation.  The light was pulsing, likely because the drive was trying to lower power use.  Why would it do that?

Answer: Maybe it was overheating because I had it in the cabinet with the sattelite receiver, which is warm, and there is poor ventilation.

So, I took the drive out the cabinet, and reattached it in the open air, on top of the cabinet.

Problem solved. Video navigation is snappy, and the light no longer pulses.  Clearly, because of the heat, it was going into low power mode in some way to try and cool itself.  That would lead to lags when it spun up for a read request from FrontRow.

So, if you have a Seagate Freeagent Extreme drive, and it exhibits this behavior, make sure it’s not overheating in an enclosed space.

As a funny aside, not only did I solve this entire problem while listening to hold music with Seagate Technical Support, I also wrote this entire blog post.  The guy is *still* off somewhere, trying to find the firmware revision for my model of drive.  I’m worried that he booked a flight to Malaysia to investigate the manufacturing of this drive personally.

Oh well.  The end story:

Unventilated enclosure for hard drive, BAD.  Seagate Technical Support, TERRIBLE.  1.5 TB iTunes Hard Drive, GOOD.

Update (1/20/2009): Unbelievable.  It looks like Seagate released the firmware patch for the 7200.11 hard drives this week, and it actually bricked the drives.  Not for me.  I’m watching this thread, and I’m not installing anything from Seagate until it’s safe.

Would You Ship a Broken iPhone to Réunion?

My brother dropped his iPhone in the Pacific Ocean.  An original, $399 iPhone.

Needless to say, saltwater does not do good things to an iPhone.  It doesn’t boot anymore.   No recourse with Apple or AT&T.  He had to get a new phone.

As a result, I ended up with my own variant of Pierre Omidyar’s famous broken laser pointer… I listed the broken iPhone on eBay.

Well, it sold today, for $122.50.  However, it sold to an international buyer… in Réunion.

Réunion, as it turns out, is a little island in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Madagascar.  It is a French island, and happens to be the first place in world (due to time zone) to adopt the Euro.

So, would you ship a broken iPhone to Reunion?

They paid with PayPal.  All the info lines up, roughly.  eBay has a hotmail address for the user, but the payment came from a email address.  However, the name and address on both is the same, although eBay lists United States for the registered country (with the Reunion address).

That could be a sign of fraud.  Or it could be the sign of a user who moved.  eBay data is pretty messy at times.

He has made recent purchases with positive feedback.  A cheap piece of wireless equipment, and an expensive ($259) piece of tree climbing equipment.  So, not just trivial items.

So, do I ship it?  Not sure.  The worst that would happen is that the credit card would end up being stolen, so PayPal would seize the funds.  And I’d be out a broken iPhone.

But, on the plus side, selling to Reunion is a new destination for me.  I’ve sold to over 30 countries on eBay at this point, and it’s getting harder to attract buyers from new ones.

I think I’m going to ship it.

People are basically good… right?

Handbrake 0.9.3 is Out! A Must Have for Digital Movie Conversion.

Handbrake 0.9.3, the best application for converting DVD video to MPEG 4 just got updated.

The new version has over 600 feature changes and improvements.  Some of my favorites:

  • A new “Apple Universal” preset to ensure universal rendering of files to play on everything from an iPod Nano to the AppleTV.
  • Ability to encode ANY source file, not just a DVD.  This is huge for people converting video from other formats using other software (like Quicktime).  One step, and hopefully a lot faster.
  • Caching of video queues to disk.  Finally!  I can’t tell you how sad it is to queue up 20 movies for conversion overnight, and then discover in the morning that a crash not only happened during the second movie, but that on restart the queue is empty!  Now, at least crashes will be recoverable.

Go here to read more and download it now.

One small negative – the new version no longer bundles DVD decoding.  It seems that one of the contributors had requested the change.

No worries, however.  If you have VLC 0.9.x installed, Handbrake 0.9.3 will find it and use it’s DVD decryption library.  You can download VLC here.

The Luxury of a 1.5TB Hard Drive

I’ve had the priviledge today to upgrade my iTunes hard drive to 1.5TB, courtesy of the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 (currently $149.99 at NewEgg).  So far, no surprise issues.  And yes, the space is truly luxurious.

I’ve been busy this year converting my entire DVD library to MPEG-4, so that I can easily access the movies in iTunes and on any device around the house that is iTunes compatible (AppleTV, Mac Mini, etc).  Each movie takes between 1.0 to 4.0GB, depending on length (yes, I mean you Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Version).

The big surprise for me was learning how many DVDs I actually owned… I would have though about 200, but it turned out to be well over 400.  Yes, that many.

So, last week, just as I was finishing the last stack, I ran out of room on the 1TB drive that I have solely dedicated to iTunes.  The 1TB drive I thought I would never ever fill.

Fortunately, my Mac Pro accommodated the rumba line of hard drive upgrades:

  • My new 1.5TB drive replaced the 1.0TB drive for iTunes.
  • The 1.0TB drive replaced the 750GB drive for Time Machine.
  • The 750GB drive replaced the 300GB drive for iPhoto.
  • The 300GB is going up on eBay sometime soon.

(In case you are wondering, the Time Machine drive is a backup for my System drive (300GB) and my iPhoto drive only.  I use a separate 2.25TB NAS for backing up the iTunes drive.)

So there you have it.  After a night of file transfers, a few alias folders reset, and telling iTunes to use the new location, I’m off an running.

438.67 GB Free.  And loving every byte of it.

Apple Q3 Results: iPhone outsells Blackberry

Wow, that was fast.

Remember when it took more than 15 months for a new entrant to dominate a multi-billion dollar industry with a brand new product & platform?

MacDailyNews has a brief readout of some of the mobile stats from today’s earnings announcement from Apple.  Some highlights:

  • Apple is now the 3rd largest mobile device maker by revenue at $4.6B, second to Nokia & Samsung.  RIM is a distant $2.1B.
  • By units, Apple outsold RIM Blackberry in Q3 by a clear margin, 6.9m units to 6.1m units.
  • Apple has sold more than 10m iPhones to date, which was their 2008 goal.  Clearly ahead of target.

It’s a shocking outcome on multiple levels.  First, the Blackberry is firmly entrenched as the dominant mobile platform in business.  Second, the average unit price of the Blackberry is much, much lower than the iPhone, thanks to the low prices on the Pearl models.

So just a little over a year after launch, Apple is selling more units than RIM, and at much higher price points.

The march goes on, and faster than expected.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ding Dong, The Apple iPhone NDA is Dead

They’ve been celebrating in the streets all day.  Apple iPhone NDA.  Gone. History. Finito.  Buh-Bye.

Great news and timing for the CS 193P class at Stanford, as this means that forums are likely to emerge quickly for students to engage with, learn from, and help each other.

Here is some text from the Apple Announcement:

We have decided to drop the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for released iPhone software.

We put the NDA in place because the iPhone OS includes many Apple inventions and innovations that we would like to protect, so that others don’t steal our work. It has happened before. While we have filed for hundreds of patents on iPhone technology, the NDA added yet another level of protection. We put it in place as one more way to help protect the iPhone from being ripped off by others.

However, the NDA has created too much of a burden on developers, authors and others interested in helping further the iPhone’s success, so we are dropping it for released software. Developers will receive a new agreement without an NDA covering released software within a week or so. Please note that unreleased software and features will remain under NDA until they are released.

It’s interesting to note the phrase I bolded above… given Apple’s history with the Mac & Quicktime, it always seemed possible that the iPhone NDA was a reaction to those bitter lessons.

The San Jose Mercury has a funny write up here.  Ars Technica has a more verbose post up as well.

I think we’ll see a measurable increase in the number of applications and the relative quality and pace of innovation from this change.  It was shocking how much this simple legal protection was stifling the growth and development of developers new to the platform.

Beyond Cool: Striped 120GB SSD RAID in a Macbook Pro

From time to time, I post the technical exploits of my friend Eric here.  I remember the attention he got a while back for hacking his MacBook Pro to support a RAID configuration.

Well, Eric has managed to extend that experimentation to a pair of new OCZ 120GB Solid State Drives (SSD).

Two OCZ Core Series v2 SATA II 120GB SSDs in a MacBook Pro

The blog post is here, with detailed photos and benchmarks.  A must see for any digital photographer and/or Mac geek who is into performance-pushing customer expansion.

My favorite part of the walk through is the brief commentary on the Apple-like packaging for the SSD drives:

The OCZ drives arrived in a plain package, but once the outer cardboard layer was removed, it was clear that OCZ had taken some packaging cues from Apple. The inner packaging was beautiful, and made it clear that you had just purchased a quality product.

That was the part I expected.  This is the part I didn’t:

Even though it was pretty, I don’t like excessive packaging and would have preferred something simple and biodegradable.

For some reason, I have a distinct mental image of Eric’s facial expression when saying this, and it made me laugh out loud.  🙂

Stanford CS193P: iPhone Application Programming Launches Tomorrow

A little too busy tonight for a long blog post, but thought I’d share how excited I am to be helping assist the launch of a new course at Stanford this Fall:

CS 193P: iPhone Application Programming

The class website is still a work in progress, but it will come along.  The course is open to Stanford undergrad and graduate students, as well as through the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) on video.  Enrollment is limited, and my guess is that it will be oversubscribed.

A wonderful opportunity for me to dust off the old Objective-C skills, and help give back to the Stanford community.  Launching new courses is always exciting, and I feel very lucky to be involved with this one in particular.

It might sound crazy to take this on in addition to the full load at both work and at home, but I’m excited to get back involved with teaching, and that’s worth the potential sleep deprivation for the quarter.

How Apple Should Handle NBC

Just read this piece on the “he-said/she-said” debate between NBC executives and Apple executives:

Apple Refutes NBC’s Pricing Policy Claims

80/20 Apple is right here, of course.  They did not give NBC any pricing priviledges that they didn’t also give to all video content producers.  However, Apple did introduce it’s first pricing variation for HD with the AppleTV rentals earlier this year, and that’s more than it had last fall when NBC pulled its content.

I think, of course, that Apple is avoiding the most obvious solution to its problem:

  • Buy NBC off General Electric for a fair price
  • Fire at least the top 2-3 levels of executives at NBC
  • Set in place a modern digital content strategy
  • Execute non-exclusive, but solid digital content contracts with Apple
  • Take the new NBC public or sell it

As a side benefit, they could really have some fun with MSNBC.

What’s the point of Apple having a $135B market cap if they don’t use it?   My guess is that if executed properly, the above strategy could increase the value of both NBC and Apple.  Worst case, the upside on Apple is likely greater than the downside for NBC, making the “investment” worth it.

Goodbye, Blackberry. Hello, iPhone.

I’ve now had an iPhone 3G for 48 hours, and it’s like I’m seeing in color for the first time.

Seriously, it’s that delightful.  Oh sure, there are small nits here and there.  I’m still getting up-to-speed on typing, and figuring out which apps are useful.

But the first 48 hours of the iPhone 3G has been one user delight after the other.  Love the App Store.  Love the built in applications.  Love the feel of the phone.  Love the simplicity of synching.  Love the Exchange integration (LinkedIn has enabled it as a beta internally).

Delightful.  That’s the word.  Delightful.

As for you, Blackberry, I’m feeling the same way I did about seven years ago when I got rid of my Palm and moved to you.  At the time, there were more apps for the Palm, but the push messaging and calendar integration of the Blackberry were game-changers.  I knew then that the Blackberry would be the platform to beat in the PDA/Smartphone arena, and that was right for at least half a decade.

The fact that at just 1 year old, the iPhone platform is clearly superior to the Blackberry in 80% of its functions is disastrous for Research in Motion (RIMM).  The pace of innovation at RIMM does not seem as fast as Apple’s, and you can’t argue that RIMM has better people, more resources, or better assets to work with than Apple.

At this point, to be a Blackberry believer long term, you have to really bank that their current entrenchment with IT shops in the Global 2000 will dominate indefinitely.  But 1 million iPhones in 3 days?  This doesn’t bode well for RIMM’s growth rate in 2012.

I don’t think people realize how bad the Blackberry has become.  Sure, the messaging is still fantastic, with great features for expert users.  But the web browsing is worse than a 1995 PC.  The address book still doesn’t synch right between corporate & personal accounts.  And has anyone gotten the calendar synching to actually delete duplicate entries correctly with Exchange?  Don’t even get me started on the lack of functional Mac support.  Just last week, my Blackberry torched the 2GB MicroSD card in it.  That’s right, unreadable.  Photos lost.  No recovery.

See this blog post for an example.  18 months later and a post on how to work around terrible Mac support for the Blackberry Pearl is still a top 20 post for me… and people still can’t get it to work!

I think RIMM went after growth and market share in the consumer market, and forgot to delight their active customer base and keep ahead of the industry.

Look, I don’t pretend to be a futurist.  There are still people who swear by the Treo.  That’s fine.  I’m just one customer.

But I got my wife an iPhone 1.0 8 months ago to replace her Blackberry Pearl because I was sick of trying to fix synching problems.  Not a complaint since.

This weekend, I helped my Mom move from a full-size Blackberry to an iPhone 3G.  So far, so good.

I’d say at least 15-20 people at my company have moved to the iPhone, and they all seem extremely happy with it.  They are comparing apps, sharing tips & tricks, resolving issues, and most importantly, they are enjoying their mobile platform.

I now also have an iPhone 3G, and I’m just loving it.  It’s the first mobile device that actually frees me from my laptop almost completely.  The Exchange email integration works better than I expected.  The ability to read attachments like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF is unbelievable.  The photo application replaces a wallet of “kid/family photos”, the web browser is excellent, and the 3rd party apps are impressive.  And I know it’s only going to get better over the next few years.  I’m even thinking about writing an app or two myself.

I’m never going back.  My string of 3 Blackberry models is at an end, just like the 2 Palm Pilots, and the Newton Messagepad 2000 before it.

I’m all about the iPhone now.  The Blackberry is dead to me.

iPhone 3G Shortage Exaggerated

Apple Store is reporting that there are, in fact, iPhone 3G units out there in California tonight.

Not feeling like a drive up to Sacramento just to get the 16GB Black version though.  Emeryville has them too.  Valley Fair apparently only has white.

Just found out from AT&T the convoluted story about qualifying for the upgrade.  Here is the deal:

  • AT&T doesn’t like giving out deep phone discounts too often.  So they count months from the last “discount” you got from them.  For me, that’s April 2007, so I have to wait until December (21 months) to get another discount.
  • Original iPhone users did not get a discount on their phone.  So AT&T is happy to give them one now, in exchange for re-upping into a 2 year contract.

So, ironically, Carolyn, who has an original iPhone, qualifies for the upgrade.  I, however, with the Blackberry, can’t qualify until December 2008.  Not quite the strategy you’d want to take if your goal was displacing competitors.

Interestingly, I confirmed with AT&T that Carolyn can upgrade to the iPhone 3G, activate, then give me the iPhone 3G, activate it on my account, and then re-activate her old iPhone.

Worth it?  Not sure.  But probably… 🙂

Let’s hope I get a new iPhone before my vacation in August.

No iPhone For You!

Wow.  So I guess I made a rather serious tactical error.

You see, I refused to wait in line for three hours last weekend for an iPhone 3G.  I figured, I’d let the dust settle for a week or two, then replace my RIMM Blackberry Pearl (and yes, I am so very eager to never own a Blackberry again I can’t tell you.)

Problem.  As of Saturday, there are no more iPhones in California.

In fact, going State by State, it seems like there are no more iPhones in the US.  Some news outlets are reporting that no new iPhone 3G stock will be available stateside for 2-4 more weeks.

Very very sad for me.  But I guess, the punishment for being too good for a three hour wait maybe a three week wait (or more).

Oh well.  This will give me the added time I need to write that virulent post on why I’m ready to say goodbye to the Blackberry forever.  Too much time.

If anyone finds a way to get a 16GB Black iPhone 3G in the Bay Area, let me know.  Thanks.

I May Have Stepped into a Parallel Universe around 2000

I’ve had the growing realization over the past few years that something may be amiss with the universe.  As a fan of the various modern theories of quantum cosmology, it’s occurred to me that I may have accidentally ended up jumping out of the theoretical universe of maximum probability into another quantum variant.

I think the news that Apple sold 1 million iPhones in 3 days and is now the Number 3 PC Maker in the United States confirmed this for me.  As an Apple user since the early 1980s and a former employee, it’s just too hard to believe that the universe of maximum probability includes Apple’s exponential success in the past five years.

Honestly, doesn’t it seem like the most likely future for the computer industry in the 1990s was Bill Gates launching a mobile computer with sales of 1 million units in 3 days, and Steve Jobs taking a full time role in philanthropy?

Think about it.  I’m guessing the date of cross over was sometime in 2000, right around the time where Apple launched an MP3 player that cost around 300% more than the average player, and yet achieved over 70% market share in just 2 years.

The question is… what other improbable events exist in this variant of the universe?