Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Novice Successfully Deploys a Shared Storage Device for About 100 Bucks

 My Experience Installing a Raspberry Pi Network Shared Storage Device

7 Jan 2020
By Denis Sweeney

Over the holiday break I built a shared Network Attached Storage (NAS) device costing about $100.

What is this and why should I consider doing it too? 
The What: A NAS is cheap way to add storage to your network that you can access from most devices.
The Why. A NAS:
  • Allows you to keep older files off your laptop but still at your fingertips.
    • I recommend using this as an opportunity to do some file organization and clear space on your laptop.
  • Is a low energy solution that costs very little to keep running all the time. You can even set up a redundant server so your data is backed up automatically.
  • Is cost-effective! Unlike cloud storage offerings, this is a one-time cost, that you physically control. When dropbox is hacked you’re SOL; with this your data will still be safe!
  • Provides storage or file access to anyone on your network (with credentials). You can reach your files, from PC, Mac, Android, IOS, and more!
  • Can give you access to files evcn when traveling. I haven’t tried it but I understand you can remotely log in to gain access to your files.
I bought a raspberry pi 4B (a bare-bones desktop PC that is about the size of an deck of cards), and some old hard drives that I had hanging around. This YouTube tutorial (How To Install OpenMediaVault 5 on a Raspberry Pi) provided me with step by step directions on how to set it up and get it working on my home network.

Time: about a day total, spread out over a few days. (probably less if you have experience)
Level of Difficulty: Medium
View of the installed hardware
 Issues I Ran Into:
  • The first video tutorial I watched before Christmas was already outdated by the time I purchased the parts I needed, just after Christmas, so I had to find a more recent video tutorial. It definitely pays to watch the video and read the comments before you start!
  • This tutorial is intended for PC users, and I’m on a Mac, so there were some differences, but few. One was that I used a (free) Putty alternative, called Cyberduck. This meant going off script a bit with no exact visual to follow, but it was pretty similar to the Putty instructions, especially when i found the menu item "Open in Terminal” in Cyberduck.
  • Once I had the OpenMediaVault installed, I reached the storage step, and there was some trial and error. I wasn’t sure whether to follow the Windows type of server demonstrated, or one of the others. Windows server type worked fine.
  • Hardware:
    • The Raspberry Pi 4B has a micro HDMI connector. It is a much smaller connection than the HDMI that I was used to. I spent Jan 2 looking for a store that was open that had an adapter. The first one I bought had a weird 90 degree turn. I thought it would work, but it interfered with the power connection on the Pi. I had to find one that came straight out to get it to work. The part cost about $15, and, I later discovered that I didn't even need it because this Pi NAS device is meant to be remotely connected to, with no monitor, keyboard or mouse needed.
      Learn from my mistake and don't bother with the micro-HDMI cable or adapter!
    • Power cord. The USB-C power connection is unique. I had to find one that had a power toggle built into the wire, designed for Pi. I paid $5 for mine.
    • The price of this project can vary.
      • The Pi itself can cost around $35 if you opt for 1GB of RAM, a bit more for 2GB, or a max of 4GB RAM costing about $60 - $80. I paid $62 for mine.
      • Optionally, you can purchase an enclosure for the Pi. The enclosure I chose cost about $10, and came with a fan and a few tiny self-adhesive heat sinks that I installed.
      • A power cable is not included with the Pi. Mine cost about $8.
      • Storage. If you’re like me, you have hard drives kicking around… either external drives or internal drives that were upgraded, or pulled from older computers. For internal SD drives you can get a $8 adapter cable (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07S9CKV7X/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_M4qfEb239B43F) to cost effectively use the internal drive as an external drive. Even large thumb drives would work here, but more likely you’ll want something with a terabyte or 2, to make it worth your while. 
Final Thoughts
Would I do it again/ recommend it to a friend? -Yes! Just know up front that there will be obstacles that you’ll need to overcome.
Have you tried this too? How was your experience? Let me know down in the comments.

About the Author
It seems relevant to include a little info on my experience level. Denis has built a few PCs (with help) and swapped out a hard drive / battery or 2 on my own over the years but this seemed more complex and involved. YouTube tutorials are your friend, and I didn’t run into anything that wasn’t discussed/ solved by someone in a video. 
Raspberry Pi by Ben Davis from the Noun Project
MacBook by Valeriy from the Noun Project
Router by Atif Arshad from the Noun Project
Google Pixel 3 xl by Stepan Voevodin from the Noun Project
Desktop Computer by Tom Tom from the Noun Project

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cache of 1960s Ads Found in Car Glove Box

Cache of 1960s Ads Found in Car Glove Box

Author: Denis Sweeney
June 28, 2016
I have owned a couple of old cars. Specifically they were American cars from 1960. Most people in their 20s don't seek out old cars but I liked all the space, the styling and the sleek fins that were highlights on the cars of that year. Both of the cars I owned had been parked for many years before I bought them, and neither car had many owners, which meant that the cars had the potential to have hidden treasure in them! And indeed, inside one of the cars, I found some great stuff in the glove compartment. Beside the repair receipts and boring car maintenance stuff, I found two such treasures. -An old map of northeast Pennsylvania (where I was living at the time), with the proposed path of interstate 80 marked; and a second tourist map with a bunch of old 1960s ads for local businesses. The ads really just speak for themselves! Enjoy!
1966 map of Pennsylvania, showing the "future path" of Interstate 80
1966 map of Pennsylvania, showing the "future path" of Interstate 80
Interstate 80, in out time is the lifeblood of NE Pennsylvania! I It is how most goods and supplies come and go. It was amazing to find evidence from the not-so-distant past, of a time when I80 was just an idea! This is a road that traverses the entire country! This image makes you realize that the choices someone made, of where to put the exits had serious implications and caused one town or municipality to grow and others to fade away! Also of note on the map is that, back then, it was referred to as "I-80 Keystone Shortway". "Shortway" instead of "freeway", "expressway" or "highway"? It just seems kind of odd.
60s map of popular destinations near Williamsport, PA
GOING SOMEPLACE? 1960s map of popular destinations near Williamsport, PA
60s ad for Peters Frankfurts
1960s ad for the unfortunately named "Peters" frankfurts
ad for Nylon head covering
Exciting products such as this "Nylon head covering"!
1960s ad for Transistor Radio $19.95
1960s ad for "FUN IN THE SUN" Transistor Radio
Ricketts Glen Park article
Ricketts Glen Park article. Beautiful park not represented well in photo
60s news clipping showing stupid tips for fishermen and hikers
Stupid tips for fishermen and hikers!
Ad for "Flying A" gasoline from the 1960s
Ad for "Flying A" gasoline from the 1960s
60s ad for the Eagles Mere Inn
1960s ad for the Eagles Mere Inn. The inn is still there and thriving!

Final note about the ads: I originally found them and must have scanned them and burned them to a CD. I recently found the data CD in a box and rediscovered these great old ads. -You might say that they've been in a second time capsule for another 20 years. Now, finally, after 50 years, they get to rejoin the world again!
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the 'old car time capsule contents'.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Can't I Do That In Visio?

Top Ten Eight Crucial Missing Features for Microsoft Visio 2013

May 13, 2014
Denis Sweeney

I have to use Visio to provide artwork for Engineers at my job. I use Visio 2013, and suffice to say that it is not the tool of choice, but since I have to use it, I make the most of it. Probably it is worth mentioning that I'm coming at this as an artist with a strong background using graphics and design applications like Adobe Illustrator, Omnigraffle, Balsamiq, and Axure. I know that one of the big reasons that engineers love Visio is that it plays well with MS Visual Basic, and integrates with Office and other MS products. I just struggle with some of the basic features that I use in other apps, that I sorely miss in Visio.

You probably already know that MS Visio is a PC-only application. Most Mac users use Omnigraffle, but another viable solution, is to run a Virtual Machine on the Mac and have Visio running on a PC virtual machine. assuming you have enough memory allotted, it works just fine. 

Partly I am posting this in hopes that I am mistaken about some of the shortcomings of Visio, and that some wizened reader will chime in and tell me of some feature I long for. And partly I am whining in hopes that some Microsoft Visio R&D engineer will happen upon this wish list and work on adding some of these great features to the application.

I understand that there may be patents involved that may get in the way, but I would hope that MS could implement slight variations on the concepts discussed to improve the software and stay out of court.

But enough pre-amble, let's get to the actual list!

These are features that should be in MS Visio 2013, but are conspicuously absent.
  1. Globally change all the instances of a font/font style.
    1. Changing fonts is a pain in the but with Visio. -Sure, they kind of allow some control with themes, but it is clunky and unpredictable. Mostly, I feel like I'm constantly fighting with the Themes. In Illustrator, with a click I can open a menu that shows all the fonts used in the active document. Then I can either review each instance, one-by-one, or I can choose to change all the instances from one font to another, or from one font/style to another font/style. [example!]
  2. Create a numbered list
    1. Sure, I can create a bulleted list but not a numbered list. I've looked and looked for this and find it hard to believe that it isn't here. Surely I'm overlooking this somewhere (please tell me I'm wrong and let me know where it is!), but I need the ability to easily show a numbered list!
  3. Have user-friendly layers functionality (visual user interface like Illustrator, where you can drag and drop between layers without changing location.
  4. Copy one or many "effects", like a specific type of shadow, that I defined for one object, and then apply it to other objects/sets of objects? Copy and paste, or even save a specific combination of styles/effects.
    1. Illustrator allows you to copy a set of effects and "paste" them to another object/ set of objects to apply the same set of effects to the selected objects. Visio should have something similar. It wastes so much time to have to apply the same style over and over to multiple objects. Especially if you took the time to do it once, and then, for whatever reason, you have to change everything with that set of effects to something else, you have to make changes again.
  5. When I update a stencil item, have it apply the update to instances in use in current documents. Or at least, upon update to a stencil item, when I open a file that uses that object, prompt me to ask if I want to update to reflect on the latest changes or not.
    1. Quark XPress and Adobe InDesign both do this the right way. They 
  6. Use an eyedropper tool to absorb an exact color, and/or apply it to one/multiple objects.
    1. This is such a basic thing in Illustrator, and it is such a pain in the ass in Visio. I'm talking about cloning colors and styles and effects that I assigned to one object, and applying the same to a second object, or to multiple other objects.
  7. Get a total changes count of how many instances were updated when I do a global "find and replace". 
    1. what it does instead, is return a vague message that says "completed", or says "We couldn't find what you are looking for.". when it succeeds in replacing across multiple pages, it should return a detailed list that says something like "Page 1: six instances changed. Page 2: three instances changed. Page 7: one instance changed. Page 8: four instances changed. A TOTAL of 14 instances were changed."
  8. Let me assign a default font. Let me assign a default theme and always start with that theme. It would include font and style and custom colors, etc.
    1. Sure, I can create a custom theme with these attributes, but it seems like I still have to select it every time I create a new document. Am I doing something wrong here? -anyone?


Things I used to think were impossible in Visio

Please help me expand this section. If I am mistaken about any of these features -and I hope that I am - please let me know and I will update the page as needed, to share the information.

Apply paragraph settings to multiple text objects, at the same time.

I used to only access the paragraph menu by selecting text, and right-clicking to choose "Paragraph" from the drop-down menu. Using this method, it seemed impossible to apply the same changes to multiple text boxes.
Visio paragraph mini menuVisio paragraph iconHowever, after a bit of exploration, I found that there is another way to access the Paragraph menu (icon shown at right). By selecting 1 or more text boxes, then clicking the tiny paragraph icon at the top of the page, you open the paragraph dialog box and it affects all the selected text boxes the same way.

Have something to add to the list? Have a correction or something to cross off - Let me know.

Denis Sweeney is a Graphics and UI Designer in the San Franciso Bay Area.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Jellyfish Painting for NAID Fundraiser Show

By Denis Sweeney March 1, 2014

I'm really excited about this new Jellyfish painting I did for NIAD Win Win 2 fundraiser show.
Side view of Jellyfish. Painting and photos by Denis M. Sweeney. 

All rights reserved.

I haven't painted in ages
--easily over 10 years, and it was fun to get back into it. What better way to get back into it than for a great organization like NIAD?

NIAD Art Center is located in Richmond, CA, and promotes meaningful independent living by artists with disabilities. I created this watercolor painting as part of a benefit show for NIAD in Oakland. The opening for the show will be held in Emeryville at the Clif Bar and Company on April 5, from 4 - 6pm. 

They can use your help. The paintings are for sale and all profits benefit the organization. Or if you just want to help them out, direct donations are welcomed.
Tickets to the show are $25, if you're interested in attending. Check the NIAD website for full details on Win Win 2.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What to do when your Internet connection sucks and you'd rather not involve the Nerd Herd

What to do when your Internet connection sucks and you'd rather not involve the Nerd Herd

By Denis Sweeney
Feb 7, 2014

I suppose everybody's house has one person, who, by default, is the "go to" guy for tech stuff. I never asked to be the tech support guy at my house. It just happened. We live in a 60s-era rental house in a suburban cul du sac. The house isn't new and none of the systems in the house are new. We've been in the house for about 3 years. The people before us had some kind of satellite TV service. When they left, the dishes were just left on the roof. 
When we moved in, we tried to bring our AT&T Uverse service with us from our old place a mile away. After about 2 weeks of trying it became apparent that the service wasn't available at the "new" place. So we switched to Comcast cable for TV and broadband. They hooked us up pretty quickly. When the installation happened, I paid little attention to the actual work that they did. At that point, I was desperate for connectivity and just wanted it to work. 
Fast forward to 3 years later, and I now work from home, and our house's infrastructure is significantly different than when we moved in. During that time, the number of devices that connect to the internet has grown from about six, to about 30. Like many other folks I talk to, we now heavily rely on streaming music and video, and less on Cable TV. 
The number of connected devices in our house (WiFi and wired combined) has ballooned over the last three years, and now includes:
  • VPN connection for work
  • multiple Roku players
  • multiple console game devices
  • multiple smart phones
  • multiple tablets
  • multiple eReader devices
At some point in the last year, we found that our connection would drop unexpectedly during the day. As the house's IT guy, after many re-boots of the router, and some research, I found a temporary fix. I discovered that if I opened a console window and pinged Netflix.com from one of the devises on the network, the connection would often restore itself for all the devices on the network. That fix worked for a while, but then the frequency of the dropped connections increased. It got to the point where I would be pinging Netflix 10+ times a day, to keep things working. It seemed also, that the problem was worse when it rained. Rain doesn't happen a lot here in California (especially this year!) but I saw a pattern and it got me thinking that perhaps the source of the problem was with the wiring that brought the signal by coaxial cable from the junction box on the corner of the rental house, around three sides of the building, to where it entered the house and connected to our cable modem.  Our house was built in the 1960s and, over the life of the building, has been wired and rewired many times as different families came and went. I decided to try replacing the cable wire on the outside of my house. I really didn't want to call the "Nerd Herd" when I wasn't convinced that our connectivity reliability issues were a problem with the way our network is set up. When I started stringing a new wire, I found one splice, and joiner connecting the old, cheap, flimsy cable wire to a new piece. As I made progress along the eves, around the three sides of the building, I continued to find splice after splice. I found seven splicers in all. When I purchased the new wire, I splurged for "quad-shielded" RG6 wire. I figured that if it was worth replacing, it wasn't worth doing it half-way. 

As far as cost goes, I bought a spool of 500 ft of wire and a box of end connectors for about $70 at the Casa de Depot. It took me about 2.5 hours to string the cable.
To join it to the house, I mostly used zip strips to connect it to the existing cable wire, but I also added cable joiners (little plastic semi-circles with nails that you pound into the wood of the eves of the house). It was surprisingly fast to do. Since my house is a single story building, I was able to do the whole project with only a 6 foot ladder. This is a pretty simple project that doesn't require much in the way of special skills. The most difficult thing involved is attaching the connector ends. This requires you to strip away the insulation on the wire in a precise way, in order to fit the end on it.
Tools I used: 

  • Utility knife
  • wire cutter
  • hammer
  • pliers (I used 2 vise grips to tighten the cable connections on both ends.)
  • 6 foot ladder (scale as appropriate for your needs)


  • Cable wire: 500 foot roll of "quad-shielded" RG6 wire
  • plastic zip strips
  • hard plastic cable joiners
  • connector ends for RG6 wire
  • cable stripping/connector tool (totally worth buying)

Cable connector
Since I left the old wire on the building, I did label it with a sharpie marker on both ends as "un-used cable" and my street address so that whomever works on it next knows what is what. 
Since I switched over to the new wire, I have not had the connection drop (yet. Knock on wood!). 

Did It Solve the Problem?

Did it work, or what? -My main inspiration for rewiring, was to fix the problem of dropped connections. What I really wanted was more reliability. I didn't have a website to measure or quantify that, but I know from the drop in requests for help with computers/devices around my house, that the change has been very successful. Our wired and WiFi connected devices all seem to stay connected and I'm expected a heavenly choir to break out any moment exclaiming "Hallelujah!" The problem is solved.

If you are interested in doing this to boost your connection speed, it may have some affect, but I did not find a significant jump at my house. There was a minor increase, but nothing to write home about. To track your connection speed, try testing your connection speed before you do any wiring. I pointed my browser to Speedtest.net and did several tests at different times of day, and from 3 source servers. Afterwards I tested again, and when I compared the tests from before and from after, I only found a small increase in speed. 

Full disclosure: I hit my thumb with the hammer within the first five minutes of working on this project. It hurt like crazy, but it neither slowed me down, nor impeded me from completing it in any way. Be careful. Wear safety eye wear. Work smart. Be careful on ladders, and watch out for bees!