Storage options for a SAS enclosure owner in a thunderbolt world

I posted the following at creativecow; below is a copy for my archives:

I’ve got an iStorage Pro 8 bay filled with 2 GB drives, and an ATTO R380 running on my 2009 Mac Pro in a RAID5 config (I have since realized that I should be using RAID6 for the more favorable reliability / performance tradeoff), and like many of you I’m eagerly awaiting the new mac pro. I’ve been researching various storage options, and would like to offer these options up for comment and criticism from the group.

My use case is single-user enthusiast-level media production, with the only firm constraint being the ability to sustain a modest 450 MB/s or so write to achieve reliable 120 fps capture of video game footage at 1920 x 1200. My current setup does 500 to 550 MB/s, which is enough, but is slower than it could be, possibly because the R380 is in slot 3 instead of slot 2, so it runs at 4x instead of 8x; I don’t remember why I set it up this way, and I should probably do something about it… Anyway :)

I see three general approaches for moving to a thunderbolt-based mac, two of which retain my existing enclosure and storage: 1) External Thunderbolt –> PCI chassis to house my R380, such as perhaps the mLogic mLink, keeping the iStorage Pro, or 2) Retire the R380 and replace it with something like the ATTO ThunderStream SC 3808D, which provides two SAS ports and operates at 6 Gb, still keeping the iStorage Pro, or 3) get an entirely new thunderbolt RAID + enclosure + disks, which would probably offer a performance boost (that I don’t *really* need).

1) I confirmed with ATTO and mLogic that the R380 with the newest drivers (4.0.1) is supported in thunderbolt topologies. An mLogic mLink is fairly inexpensive at about $400, and provides a single PCI slot that seems like it should be fast enough to let the R380 top out. However, I’m slightly concerned about inserting an additional device between the host and the platters; should I expect a significant latency / throughput hit as a result? This option is probably the least flexible and has the shortest useful lifespan of the three, but is also the cheapest by far.

2) An ATTO ThunderStream SC 3808D is more than twice the cost of an mLink at about $1000, and would replace the R380 and operate at 6 Gb instead of 3 Gb. This also leaves the door open for future SAS expansion via daisy chaining. I have no problem leaning on something like a ThunderStream for as long as it’s viable to do so, provided it’s reliable and performant enough.

3) Get a new thunderbolt RAID enclosure including new drives. At first I thought this was vastly more expensive than a SAS-connected solution, but maybe it’s not… To compare: on the one hand we have $3600 for a 3 TB Pegasus2 R8, and on the other hand, $1000 (ThunderStream SC 3808D) + $1400 (another iStorage T8 SAS enclosure) + ~$1200 (8 x 3 GB drives) = $3600. As the price is roughly a wash, going with the newer, faster solution with fewer discrete components is a no-brainer. There is also the fact that my existing drives have all just crossed the 3 year mark – no problems yet, but… check out the data from Backblaze that shows a marked increase in HDD failure rate after 3 years. Yet another reason for me to get a new enclosure + drives: I don’t have enough capacity elsewhere to back up or offload the 7.2 TB of data I currently have (like I said, enthusiast ;), which is somewhat unsettling given that it’s RAID5 and not RAID6.

So, those are the options I’ve been considering. Having written it all out, I think I’m leaning towards biting the bullet on a Pegasus2 24 TB R8, however I’d greatly appreciate any comments / pot-shots / hazing from the crowd.

Posted in mac pro | Leave a comment

irssi auto-op your friends

From the ‘short and sweet’ department, here’s a fast recipe for configuring irssi to automatically op users of your choosing.

cd ~/.irssi/scripts
curl -O
mkdir -p autorun ; cd autorun ; ln -s ../

If irssi is already running (and why wouldn’t it be ;), /run the friends_peder script. Otherwise just start irssi and the script will auto-load. Then add some friends.

/run friends_peder
/addfriend -flags o *!* #macosx undernet
/addfriend -flags o *!* #Quake4Life gamerznet

The addfriend syntax is:

-!- Friends: /ADDFRIEND [-mask full|normal|host|domain] [-flags 
          <[o][v][c]>] <nick|mask> [<channel> [<chatnet>]]]

You may have noticed the new window that appeared to show the state of your friends list:


There are some other commands, which you use by specifying an entry number to edit:

CHANNEL <num> <channel>    - set channel
    <channel> is either a channel nam
DELETE  <num>              - delete entr
FLAGS   <num> <flags>      - set flags
    <flags> is a list of c (color), o (give op), v (give voice)
MASK    <num> <mask>       - set 
    <mask> is in the usual nick!use
NET     <num> <net>        - set net
   <net> is one of your defined ircnets or * for all


Posted in bit bucket, scripts | Leave a comment

Chasing your tail, and winning! (or: ramdisk soothes latency bumps)

My 8 drive RAID array is a little weird. Throughput is decent, but latency is kinda bad. This causes World of Warcraft for mac to not be able to keep up when capturing in-game video at high data rates (200+ MB/s), which of course is the only way to get large frame size *and* high frame rate :) It took me literally years to finally think of this solution, and after a lot of fine tuning, it works great! The basic idea is to capture video files to a ramdisk and continuously move them to my RAID array during capture. See the script comments for the gory details.

Here is an example use of this fancy fast capturing in action. These clips started off as 1920 x 1200 @ 100 fps, which is about 300 MB/s during capture. FCP X was used to re-time the clips and export for YouTube.

Posted in games, media, scripts | Leave a comment

SI File Transfer, Entity Capabilities, iChat, and Your Jabber Bot

What do these things have in common? This is the only place on the entire internet where you can read useful information about all of these things.

I’ve toyed with jabber bots before, mostly using the various XMPP stacks available for Python. This time, I wanted to find something even more high level, and I think I found it in Blather – the example echo bot weighs in at 9 lines of code, including the 2 require statements. Trying to send it a file, however, results in this:


I spent a while figuring out what’s required of a jabber bot so that iChat Messages will allow its user to send a file. Researching XMPP file transfer might not be such a mystical odyssey if you were implementing everything from scratch, but if instead you’re trying to (ostensibly) save some time and write as little code as possible, the path isn’t terribly clear. In this case, I ended up learning a fair amount about XMPP. ~20 hours of fervent web searching and reading yielded ~3 lines of code.

I found one solitary post from somebody writing a Blather bot who had this same problem. He was informed that the bot needs to advertise the correct set of capabilities for file transfer, however that guy wasn’t sure what they were. Somebody else chimed in, but that response was broken and also incomplete – but it was enough to put me on the right track. The minimum set of capabilities needed to be a XEP-0096 compliant file transfer recipient  are:

    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>

Here is a working XMPP bot that can receive files sent by another client, using the XEP 0096 spec. Running it looks something like this:

csbot@botboy[~/cs-bot]ruby xmpp_receiver.rb
Connected to Sent capabilities:
<iq type="result" id="blather0001">
  <query xmlns="" node="">
    <identity name="csbot" type="bot" category="client"/>
    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>
    <feature var=""/>

Receiving file from
<file xmlns=""


Posted in bit bucket | 7 Comments

Longcuts occasionally form when shortcuts conspire

Saw a tweet about one of those one-touch ‘build me a VM’ things for Oracle server + rails and decided to try it; this one is mostly driven by some software called vagrant, which seems cool enough. It definitely doesn’t seem like it’s supposed to be hard.

Everything was going fine until one of the child scripts reached for an RPM I was supposed to have downloaded and placed in specific spot – which I did. The error is:

err: /Stage[main]/Oracle::Xe/File[/home/vagrant/]:
Could not evaluate: Could not retrieve information from environment production
source(s) puppet:///modules/oracle/ at

I looked, and sure enough the file is totally there – I copied it there! Ah ha, but Safari helpfully decompressed it for me, leaving a naked .rpm, which vagrant seemingly isn’t prepared to handle. Ok, whatever… zip it:

cd puppet/modules/oracle/files
zip -r oracle-xe-11.2.0-1.0.x86_64.rpm

Try again: vagrant destroy ; vagrant up. Faile. This time, the error is:

err: /Stage[main]/Oracle::Xe/Exec[alien xe]/returns: change from notrun to 0 
failed: /usr/bin/alien --to-deb --scripts Disk1/oracle-xe-11.2.0-1.0.x86_64.rpm 
returned 2 instead of one of [0] at 

Uh… what? two instead of one of zero. Ok… As I was reading the zip man page, I remembered that I totally don’t like zip, leading to the immediate assumption that even though zip exited zero, it didn’t produce output that vagrant was expecting. In a little rodent voice, my mind said “probably some kind of silly directory nesting crap”.

I revoked Safari’s archive expanding credentials and re-downloaded the, and copied that zip file into the puppet staging area. This time it all worked!

notice: Finished catalog run in 1401.84 seconds

Oracle is all ready to go!

{56} andre@foci [work/rails-dev-box-runs-oracle] % vagrant ssh
Welcome to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.2.0-23-generic x86_64)
 * Documentation:
Welcome to your Vagrant-built virtual machine.
Last login: Fri Sep 14 02:23:18 2012 from
vagrant@rails-dev-box:~$ sqlplus
SQL*Plus: Release Production on Tue Jul 30 00:12:34 2013
Copyright (c) 1982, 2011, Oracle.  All rights reserved.
Enter user-name: ^C
vagrant@rails-dev-box:~$ tnsping localhost
TNS Ping Utility for Linux: Version - Production on 30-JUL-2013 00:16:24
Copyright (c) 1997, 2011, Oracle.  All rights reserved.
Used parameter files:
Used HOSTNAME adapter to resolve the alias
OK (0 msec)

Looking back in Finder, I did eventually notice that the zip file expands to a directory called Disk1, from which I copied the rpm to the puppet staging area without realizing I was not copying from the downloads folder.

nested things...

I used “Show in Finder” from the safari downloads list to get there (which can be done successfully without reading anything, since the position is dependable), and somehow didn’t notice the extra nesting; and I used drag-and-drop to insert the file path into a waiting Terminal window to cp it into the puppet area, so I didn’t ever type “Disk1”. Drive safe!

Posted in Pro Tip, The More You Know | Leave a comment

foci: MacBookPro10,1

I got one, and I really like it! This post will focus on just a few attributes of the new hardware that are salient to me.

Model Name: MacBook Pro
 Model Identifier: MacBookPro10,1
 Processor Name: Intel Core i7
 Processor Speed: 2.7 GHz
 Number of Processors: 1
 Total Number of Cores: 4
 L2 Cache (per Core): 256 KB
 L3 Cache: 6 MB
 Memory: 16 GB

Previous to this, my newest Mac is a top-end 2011 MacBookPro (the first vintage with thunderbolt), which I only mention because it’s crazy how much the hardware has changed in two years – even compared to a laptop with thunderbolt and SSD – beyond the expected ‘smaller / faster / cheaper’ improvements to components. I’ve only had a couple days with it so far, but here are some highlights of the differences:

  • Retina. Amazing feature that also presents some amazing challenges.
  • Additional thunderbolt port, which turns out to be the answer to
  • No built-in ethernet or firewire
  • No external case lights! None! Not a battery charge indicator, nor a system power indicator!
  • Somebody clearly wanted the speakers to be badass.
  • No optical drive (good riddance, imo – as long as you have one in the house somewhere)

Overall, it’s a fantastic upgrade, however there are a couple things that give me pause. I’m not really prepared to designate any of the negative-sounding items above as problems; they are tradeoffs, so the questions I ask are: Are these tradeoffs a good deal for me? Are they a good deal for an average user?

The first item of concern for me was the lack of built-in ethernet and firewire. I’m kind of a networking geek, so ethernet is important to me for a variety of reasons, even beyond the 900 Mb/s speed difference as compared to wifi:

  • isolation of network traffic for troubleshooting / exploratory purposes
  • remote attach via gdb (and possibly also support for uploading kernel core dumps)
  • better security
  • much better maximum density (there isn’t really that much wireless spectrum, while ethernet is only limited by the physical space occupied by the gear itself)

Of course most people probably don’t care much for the above, and I fully recognize that, which is why I’m now the owner of two shiny thunderbolt –> ethernet dongles, which are probably also the smallest ethernet NICs I’ve ever used. As far as I can tell, the entire ethernet feature set is supported – although I haven’t quite tried everything yet. One of the hardest parts (for me, not sane people) was figuring out good names for the dongles for use in static DHCP / DNS maps (since they each have a unique MAC address, and since they are highly interchangeable between hosts – granted, right now I only have one mac without built-in ethernet, but… ya know. Future-proof naming conventions are a thing ;)

Ok, so what do we gain in exchange for no ethernet / firewire, then? A case that is thinner than either of those connectors, which Apple achieved years ago starting with the MacBook Air. I think this is worth it, even for somebody like me who can enumerate reasons for wanting ethernet. The thunderbolt –> firewire dongle also seems fully functional. The additional flexibility of having either two ethernet ports or two firewire ports is also cool.

The tradeoffs for the no external case lights are perhaps not quite as obviously beneficial. Let’s start with the battery charge indicator. To me, battery charge level is useful information, and it is useful to be able to get that information with the lid closed – which is probably why Apple laptops have supported this for so long. As far as I can tell, this feature is gone for no gain other than the material benefit of omitting those parts, and perhaps simplifying the manufacturing and internal configuration by some (possibly significant) amount. Although a fairly minor issue, I’m putting this one in the sad-face column.

My internal jury is still out regarding the lack of a system power / activity light. Several times so far I have powered or rebooted the machine and waited through what seemed like a long POST, with *no* ability to tell if the system was on. I find this to be completely uncool, and even reasonably frustrating. What would I do differently with this information? Things that most users don’t do. I get that. The problem is, there is really no workaround, unlike with ethernet and firewire – and I’m completely serious in saying that I would buy a thunderbolt system power LED dongle, were it available. Not for regular use, but for when the shit has hit the fan. I really dislike the notion of removing useful information outlets, even if that information isn’t required all the time.

So what do we gain in exchange for no power / activity LED? As far as I can tell, the lines between system states are blurring, and there is the increasing possibility of transitions between states that might be ‘unwanted’ (i.e. noticeable == distracting) if the user knew they were happening (Power Nap for example), and it’s obvious to want to mitigate that potential annoyance. However, I still believe it would be a false choice between keeping the power indicator as-is, and annoying users with unattended state transitions. Why not change the LED behavior to not annoy or distract during Power Nap, but also still indicate system vitals when that knowledge is helpful? Other examples of when it’s helpful: maybe the system is asleep, and I want to shut down to save battery; or maybe I shut the lid but the system didn’t actually sleep (so now I need to find out why, and make it sleep). I realize both of these are things that users *shouldn’t* have to worry about, but I live in the world that exists, not the world that should exist, and these have both been part of my usage pattern for every laptop I’ve ever owned. Accordingly, lack of power / activity LED will probably go in the sad-face column, but I will allow time to determine the extent to which these issues are still present on this new hardware.

Regarding the retina display; the visual quality is amazing, and has given me a renewed appreciation for OS X UI aesthetics. I can really feel all the additional visual information  and extra detail. So that’s the up side, and it’s hard to over-state this impact. Also interesting: the retina laptop hasn’t ruined the non-retina counterpart for me, like both the iPhone and iPad did.

Now, the other end of the tradeoff: I’m one of those people who is very sensitive to frame rate and animation performance. I had no illusions that retina resolutions would be as performant in all areas as compared to non-retina, on today’s GPUs. For the most part, performance is acceptably good for most common animations (scrolling, panning spaces), but some stuff animates slowly (resizing), and a few things animate very slowly (resizing with many sub-views). The increased drawing workload doesn’t really present any usability restrictions in day-to-day operation, but some workflows are notably impacted. For example, screen recording software now has a lot more work to do, and is usually resource-constrained even in non-retina resolutions. Initial screen recording test results are better than I expected, but there’s just no getting around all that extra work, and it will force me to change the way I do screen recordings (i.e. set the display resolution as low as possible; avoid heavy-handed animations).

Overall responsiveness feels notably improved compared to the 2011 MBP, in spite of occasionally slower drawing – probably due to the increased memory and CPU performance. SSD performance feels roughly the same. Raw CPU performance is moderately improved; here’s a quick encoding benchmark comparing these two laptops and my Mac Pro:

Source file: 1.4 GB QuickTime movie, 00:27, 1920 x 1200 @ 60 fps, ProRes 422
Re-encoded here using the avexporter sample code available from Apple

avexporter command used:

time avexporter -dest ~/t -replace -preset AVAssetExportPreset1920x1080 -source ~/Movies/

Each config tested twice. Total elapsed wall-clock time for each test in bold. Lower numbers are better :)

# MacBookPro8,2 Intel Core i7 2820QM @ 2.3 Ghz / 32nm “Sandy Bridge” / Early 2011 (thor)
326.51s user 11.64s system 447% cpu 1:15.55 total
325.68s user 11.63s system 448% cpu 1:15.29 total

# MacPro4,1 Intel Quad Core Xeon W5590 @ 3.3 Ghz / 45nm “Nehalem” / Early 2009 (rune)
324.57s user 10.70s system 451% cpu 1:14.24 total
323.17s user 10.56s system 451% cpu 1:13.97 total

# MacBookPro10,1 Intel Core i7 3820QM @ 2.7 Ghz / 22nm “Ivy Bridge” / Early 2013 (foci)
270.30s user 10.58s system 446% cpu 1:02.97 total
269.87s user 10.47s system 445% cpu 1:02.95 total

Posted in bit bucket | 1 Comment

Site Redesign Complete

I’ve finally finished with the site redesign, featuring a little custom javascript header – roll over the images to see other images. These are loaded from URLs in a JSON document, so it’ll be easy to add new images over time.

As this WordPress site is now also the homepage, I’ve imported all the old LiveJournal entries previously found there into WordPress.

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Traffic Shaping with pfSense and HFSC

Traffic Shaping with pfSense and HFSC (youtube)

This screencast demonstrates the use of a pfSense device for traffic shaping on a typical home network, with the goals of minimizing latency and maximizing throughput. In particular, we use a three-tier queue configuration where a parent speedboost queue on each interface contains leaf queues that catch all the traffic. The speedboost queues use HFSC’s non-linear service curve to match the behavior of the comcast speedboost. The leaf queues are configured to partition the available bandwidth, and automatically allow ‘borrowing’ when there is no contention.

Section links:
Installation / Setup:
Traffic Shaping:

In a future video, I will go into more detail about how the sharing happens when there is contention, and some additional techniques for testing these usage patterns.

Feedback is welcome! Especially from people who know more about this stuff than I do…

Here’s the slide deck.

Posted in tutorials | Leave a comment


In preparation for a site redesign, I am migrating away from LiveJournal, my longtime (but mostly abandoned) personal blog. WordPress offers import support from various sources, including LiveJournal. I let it grind for about 30 minutes and it got all 300+ LJ entries and all their comments. Awesome! Any non-public entires are set to be password protected by WordPress; I’ll probably figure out some way to remove those from the public listing…

The combination of this blog’s existing content plus the LiveJournal stuff results in pretty complete coverage of my activities back to May 2001. Woot!

This post also marks the introduction of RETINA GRAPHICS, via the WP Retina 2x plugin.


Posted in bit bucket, lj | Leave a comment

Permissions updated…

Spambots have been running wild lately, so I’ve tightened this site a little. To post a comment, users must be logged in and must have a previously approved comment – otherwise the comment goes into moderation queue.


They really went crazy for reals, so I added a captcha for registration, and also mass-deleted hundreds of bogus accounts. I’m pretty sure I deleted some legit ones as well, as there’s no easy means for distinguishing them in the wordpress user list… so sorry, babies :/

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