Tale of a data paranoid

Ever since I had my first hard disk failure about 11 years ago and lost a substantial portion of my data, I am more concerned with data back than most computer owners/users. Every new computer that I purchased since then had also included provision for data backup. I started out with magnetic tapes that while worked, took long time to back up even a moderate amount of data. Not to mention the longevity of the tapes were always in question. Even with the popularization of CD-ROM/RAM or even DVD-ROM/RAM, I never used it as a backup medium. Capacity is too low and unless I paid for top quality disks, longevity again was suspect.

In the last few years since I switched to OS X, I have been using external hard disks as a way to backup my data. The main catalyst are applications such as Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper! which mirror a drive to another exactly. The advantage of unix-based OS X means that once my drive is cloned, I can actually boot up from the external drive and use it from there. Try doing that with a Windows machine!
Hard disk has its own issue though. With the advent of large capacity hard disk, that means I have to constantly purchase new external drive to accommodate any new internal drive, leaving a number of smaller and less useful disks around the apartment. And with the arrival of Time Machine in Leopard, now I need double the capacity of my internal drive so I can have both Time Machine and clone.
This is clearly a non-scalable solution.
I first heard of Drobo when I saw a video demo/interview of the Drobo founder by Robert Scoble. At the time I thought it was an interesting way to make RAID/NAS drive simpler to use, but I felt that the price was too steep for just an fancy enclosure. Fast-forward to last week when I recorded the first ALT.NET meetup and ended up with nearly 2 hours of DV video files. Suddenly the free space on my 250GB internal drive in my Mac Pro shrunk to almost nothing.
This time I look for a more scalable solution. RAID is an option but due to the stupidity of Apple it is not trivia to add software RAID or cheap to add hardware RAID. Also, the need to decide which type of RAID I want to setup seem to defeat the objective I want a Mac in the first place; to get work done instead of tinkering with software/hardware. So I give Drobo another look and found that while it may not be as integrated as RAID, the flexibility it offers more than offset that. The ability to easily add new drive(s) to expand my storage capacity means I don't have to decide on how large a disk I should purchase every time I need an upgrade. Now, I just buy a new drive, put it in to Drobo and that's it. No need to worry whether I should do RAID 0, RAID 1, or RAID 5, etc.
So how easy it is to get Drobo setup?

I purchased the generation 2 Drobo with 2 x 1TB drives package on the Drobo Store. After unpacking everything it was simply a matter of hooking up the power supply and the FW800 cable to the back of the Mac Pro, and pushed the two drives into the slots. Then I installed the Drobo Dashboard from the CD and formatted the Drobo "drive". One of the question the Dashboard asks is what size should Drobo drive be formatted at. I was given the choice of 1, 2, 4, 8, and 16TB. Logic or even common sense would say that with two 1TB drives I should pick 2TB option. But then I remembered Leo Laporte mentioned this on one of the MacBreak Weekly podcast that the best option is 16TB no matter how much storage is actually in the Drobo. Why? Because this mean I won't need to re-formatted the drive in the future or have multiple "drives" shows up in the OS when I put in more storage capacity.
Then it was a few minutes wait while the Dashboard "formats" the Drobo and rebooted it. Once that is done, the Drobo shows up in OS X as an external drive of 16TB. The Dashboard also offers to format the drive as HFS+ but somehow it didn't work for me. I had to use Disk Utility to partition and format but that was easy. (I create two partitions: one 250GB for Time Machine, and one that occupies the rest for data)
And that's it really. Total time from unpack to having a 16TB drive on my desktop? 30 minutes max. What is more time consuming is the data transfer from the internal drive to Drobo. The FW800 connection is really fast but it is not infinite! It still takes around 20 minutes to transfer my 40GB Windows XP VM while Time Machine is also backing up to the Drobo. Having said that, the connection is definitely fast enough to use Drobo as a primary drive. I have no problem running XP VM off Drobo directly. In fact, it is slightly smoother now because the VM is no longer on the internal drive, blocking OS I/O. The acid test would be to edit HD video directly from Drobo.

One thing I do take time and care is the transfer of my media files. Having lost iTunes metadata before, this time I look up the instruction and do it "properly". Here are the three links that explains how to transfer:

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Apple TV and why I want one

I causally mentioned to my friend at work who is also an Apple user that I may get the Apple TV when it is finally out. His reaction was, "What? Why would you want to watch video blow up?"

I explained to him that I want to watch my video podcasts on the TV instead of in front of my computer, despite the fact I have a very nice 24" LCD monitor. My friend just rephrased his question and wanted to know why I would want to watch low resolutions video on my 46" HDTV.

Then I realised that he thought all the video podcasts on iTunes are sized for the video iPod. He did not know some video podcasts are in hi-def, such as MacBreak which is in glorious 1080p. Others such as Diggnation and Merlin Show are in decent quality 480p which should scale OK on the big screen. But the most important of all are the TV shows that we've bought from iTunes: Smith, NOVA, etc. which we would not watch unless it is easy to put onto the big TV.

Yes, there are cheaper ways to get video from our macs to the TV but Apple TV takes the hassle out of the whole equation. Do I really want to figure out how to stream video from my Mac Pro to my PowerBook (probably using VLC), then onto the TV using S-Video (i.e. no HD)? How would I control the playback? Certainly not through a remote control and an onscreen display that Apple TV would provide. Do all these worth $299? To me definitely, probably not for most of you geeks out there. But then, I just want to watch video from my computer on my HDTV, not doing my annual geek certification exam.

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Twitter

For once I am slightly on the leading edge instead of following the trend. I heard about Twitter* on MacBreak Weekly's MacWorld podcast but I wasn't even remotely interested in it until I saw Iconfactory's Twitterrifc app this morning. Right now I have no friends so I don't know who is doing what (cue sad face), but hopefully some of my invites will sign up and soon we will all be 'twitting' (?).

* Twitter is a social networking web
service that lets you stay in touch with friends, family or even the
public at large thanks to short posts or “tweets” that describe what
you are doing at any given moment. The concept is simple, strangely
addictive and fun through and through. Tell friends, colleagues or
strangers what you are snacking on, your current interests, favorite
websites or just plain goofy nonsense!

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Dolby Headphone @ TWiT

I've heard about Dolby Headphone encoding for a while now and was impressed by the demo track. But the latest MacBreak Weekly podcast @ TWiT is encoded using it and I must say, I am very impressed. I hope they continue to encode their regular podcasts using Dolby Headphone too.

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