Thoughts

Storage drops below 9 cents per gigabyte

I see that Newegg.com lists the Seagate 1.5TB SATA hard drive for $129.99 with free shipping. Sure, it’s an OEM drive, which means it’s not boxed, but who cares? Do you realize what this means? It means you’re paying $0.086 per terabyte gigabyte. Storage has become even cheaper — unthinkably cheap. The previous relevant price point was $100 for a 1TB drive, which meant $0.100 per gigabyte (a dime).

Seagate 1.5TB SATA Drive

A gigabyte is now cheaper than a dime! I just didn’t think it would happen this fast. I remember when a dime would get you 100MB, and I thought that was a lot. Okay, let me not kid myself: I remember when a dime would get you 1MB or less. Now you get 1GB, which is 1,000 times the storage capacity, for less than the same tiny dime. Amazing!

If you’re looking for extra storage capacity, now would be a good time. If I hadn’t already filled up my main Drobo with 1TB drives, I’d jump all over these, because they’re definitely at the right price point, especially now that they’ve been cleared for use with the Drobo once more.

Seagate FreeAgent Xtreme 1.5TB

While I’m on the subject of good deals, let me remind you of my guide to getting good deals on hard drives. I mention it because Micro Center happens to be selling the Seagate FreeAgent Xtreme 1.5TB (a triple interface external hard drive) for $149.99. This means that you’re paying $20 for the enclosure over the price of the hard drive alone.

Remember, this is a triple interface drive (USB 2.0/FW400/eSATA), and that means the enclosure is very inexpensive. Instead of buying one of those DIY enclosures that may or may not work (I’ve been there), you’ll get something that’s guaranteed to work, or you can return it.

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Reviews

Join MP4 files with Front End Digital Media Workshop

Want an easy way to join MP4 clips together? Front End Media Workshop, a nifty piece of Mac software published by the now defunct K-werkx, can definitely help you out. While the folks that put it together aren’t online any longer, the app is still available for download from CNET.

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

The app (it shows up as FE_DigitalMediaWorkshop in the Apps folder by the way) is meant to do a bunch of other things, but I found it most useful to join together several MP4 clips from my video collection.

For example, I’d purchased a DVD of “The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird“, a re-titled version of the 1952 original, La Bergère et Le Ramoneur. The film is little known, and features the dramatic escape of a pair of lovers from the claws of a despotic ruler. A curious bird helps them escape and orchestrates the toppling of the ruler’s oppressive regime, which mirrored, at the time, what was going on behind the iron curtain of Eastern Europe. Peter Ustinov voices the bird and also narrates the story.

At any rate, I’d copied the DVD to my computer only to later realize that I’d done it by chapters instead of copying the entire movie as a single file. Front End Digital Media Workshop allowed me to drag the five or six clips for each chapter onto its main window, drag and drop to arrange them in order, then, within minutes, join them together as a single file. The output was saved to the desktop in a folder (one for each join operation), where I could review, rename and archive it.

Sure, if you have Quicktime Pro, you can join video files there, or you can also import them into iMovie, but a small, single purpose app that does it faster and without a lot of fuss scores higher in my book. I may even use it later to snip clips from the beginning and end of some of my other video files, since I see that it has that feature built in as well.

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How To

Run WordPress by itself or cached?

I’ve been running an experiment for the past three months. I wanted to see how well WordPress would do if I ran it by itself, without any sort of caching. So far, so good.

About four months ago, my web server kept getting pummelled into the ground almost daily, and I couldn’t figure out why it kept happening. After researching the issue, I found the prevailing opinion to side with the need for a caching plugin. People were complaining that it’s just not optimized well, and must be run with the aid of such a plugin, otherwise higher levels of traffic will bring the web server down. Trouble was, I already ran my WP install cached, using WP Super Cache, had been doing so for over a year, and my server still went down. (I should specify it had only recently started to go down.) What was I to do?

I posted a message in the WP forums asking why WordPress doesn’t generate static files. Were there any plans to do so in the future? To my surprise, Matt Mullenweg (WP’s founder) replied to my post, and told me that while there are caching plugins out there, WordPress.com doesn’t run any, and they’re doing just fine hosting millions of blogs. Others chimed in as well, and their replies got me to make the following changes:

  1. Made the switch to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) with SliceHost. Four months later, I’m still very happy about that move.
  2. Doubled the RAM on my web server (to 512MB from 256MB).
  3. Turned off WP Super Cache and started running my site by itself.

Each step followed the other in succession. I wanted to make gradual changes so I could see why my server kept having issues. Switching to a VPS host was good, and it was needed, but for my traffic levels, it wasn’t enough. Doubling the RAM was good and it was needed, and while the new RAM is enough for now, I’d still be having problems if I didn’t also disable my caching plugin.

Here’s where I think the crux of the caching/non-caching issue lies: it has to do with the load placed on the server as cached versions of the pages get created. Normally, that’s a non-issue. But as I monitored my server carefully, I discovered that it went down only as it started to get indexed heavily by search engines. Their bots visited my site in spurts, with traffic peaking, then falling back down. They spawned multiple threads, over ten at times, following links and slurping up the content. It’s when bot traffic peaked that an incredible load was placed on the web server. It kept generating cached versions of pages it hadn’t already cached, RAM and CPU demand increased to unsustainable levels, and it went down.

No amount of tweaking the Apache and MySQL config files helped with this sort of scenario, or at least it didn’t help me. You see, the difference between peak traffic levels with search engines vs. people is that people will go to a single article or a group of articles that are in demand. A caching plugin works great for those sorts of situations. There’s a limited number of pages to worry about caching, and those pages get served up time and time again. The load is acceptable. When a search engine bot starts indexing your site, it’ll call up any and all available pages that it can find. That can place a huge load on the web server as it scrambles to serve up those pages and build static versions for the caching plugin. I believe that it’s too much for most medium-sized servers to handle, and they will usually go down.

In my case, disabling the caching plugin and making sure no traces were left in the .htaccess file were the only things that helped. Now, I might have up to four different search engine bots crawling my site, each spawning multiple threads, and my server will usually not go down. Sure, there are times when the server will get dangerously low on RAM, and will be unresponsive for 5-10 minutes, but that’s an acceptable scenario for me. And if I should all of a sudden get huge amounts of people traffic to a post, it’s possible that the web server will also become unresponsive, at least for a time. But the great thing about running WordPress by itself is that Apache will usually take care of itself. As the requests die down, Apache will kill the extra threads, the available RAM will go back up again, and the server will recover nicely. That wasn’t possible while I ran the caching plugin. When it went down, it stayed down, and that was a problem.

I realize that what works for me may not work for others. I have not tested what happens with WP Super Cache on a larger server, for example one with more RAM. It’s possible that the larger amount of RAM there will offset the greater demand placed on the server as it builds static versions of the pages, although I’m not sure what to say about the CPU usage. That also peaked as the caching plugin went crazy. Not sure how that’ll work on a more powerful server.

WP Super Cache has some options that allow you to cache more pages and keep them cached for longer periods of time. Perhaps fiddling with those options would have allowed me to keep running the plugin, but I wanted to see how things stood from the other side of the fence. Like I said, so far, so good. Caveats aside, running WordPress by itself was the cure for my persistent web server outages.

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Thoughts

Just give me a good zoom lens, thanks

Greetings from Osttirol! My wife and I have been vacationing in Austria for the past week. It’s a gorgeous place to visit and, needless to say, I took tons of photos here. I’ve been carrying my Canon 5D and my lenses with me everywhere, and let me tell you, I’ve been sorely in need of a good zoom lens.

The lens inventory in my camera bag is woefully short at the moment. I started out with three primes: EF 24mm f/1.4L, EF 50mm f/1.4, and EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro. I sold the 24mm prime with the intention of buying the EF 24-105mm f/4L Zoom, but other circumstances intervened, and now I’ve only got the 50mm and 100mm lenses.

There are some who say it’s better to have prime lenses. I disagree. I’d like to see them carry five or six prime lenses in a backpack up and down a mountain in order to get the range that one or two good zoom lenses would give, and then tell me if they still feel the same way. And by the way, try changing lenses in swift mountain breezes, with insects buzzing around you and just dying to get inside the sensor chamber and leave smudge marks (which happened to me). Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a few other accessories such as polarizers and UV filters of various sizes for the different diameters of each lens, plus one or two water bottles and a fleece jacket plus an umbrella in case the weather goes bad, and then we’ll talk…

In a way, I was glad to only have to carry two lenses; I’d have really felt the weight of a third one. But I felt so limited in the photos I could take, because I could only use the 50mm or the 100mm lens to frame my photos. In some instances, I could walk back and forth to get a better view or angle, but in others, there was no way to get a better photo without also being able to fly — which incidentally, would be very nice, but I haven’t figured out how to do it yet. And no, I don’t believe in cropping. I only do it when I absolutely have to. I didn’t pay $2,800 for a full-frame sensor that can take 12.8 megapixel photos so I could crop them and get the same resolution I can get from a $500 camera.

To this day, I slap my head when I think that I could have had the 24-105mm zoom lens as a kit lens with my 5D for a little over half its usual price. I was such a fool not to get it! It’s a light and sharp zoom with more range than the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, and you can easily walk around with it for hours without getting too tired.

So far on this trip (which ends very soon, unfortunately) I took 1904 photos with the 50mm prime, and 471 photos with the 100mm prime. If I had had (don’t you just love the English language) the 24-105mm zoom on my trip, it’d have stayed on my camera 95% of the time, because that’s the range I use the most, particularly on the wider end of that focal spectrum, which was not available to me, each and every day, how stupid could I be, ugh…

Look, I’m not knocking the 50mm prime, which is a great prime, and very cost effective given its low light capabilities and sharpness. And I’m definitely not knocking the 100mm prime, which is versatile and a fantastic macro lens with gorgeous bokeh. But I really didn’t need f/1.4 or macro capabilities for landscape photography, which is what I did on this trip. I needed a zoom lens!

So, if you’re not sure what lenses to get, don’t do what I did, or you’ll be frustrated to no end as well. First get a good, lightweight zoom lens, one that won’t kill your wrist as you carry your camera around taking photos. Later, as you find that you need more specific capabilities, such as being able to take handheld photos at dusk or dawn, or more bokeh, or macro photos, then spring for those primes that have the features you need.

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How To

Get iMovie '08 to import 3GP files

I recorded a few video clips with my wife’s mobile phone today, and when I tried to import them into iMovie ’08, I found out that I couldn’t. Apparently, I’m not alone, because if you do a search for this on Google you’ll find there are plenty of other people with the same problem.

Fortunately, there are two ways to work this out, but neither is necessarily obvious. Pick one of them:

  • Open up the clips in Quicktime. I was able to open them up and play them right away. Now, export each clip as an MP4 file. You must specifically select File > Export, then select Movie to MPEG-4 from the Export drop-down menu. Don’t just Save the clip, because it’ll package it as a MOV file, which iMovie ’08 will still refuse to import. You must Export it as an MP4 file. You may also be able to export to other formats, but MP4 is what worked for me.
  • Open them clips in Turbo.264, then export them to some format (try Apple TV or iPod Standard, for example). There’s a catch here though. If the resolution of the clips is too small, Turbo.264 may not be able to convert them, and will give you an error. Best stick with Quicktime then.

Now open up iMovie ’08, and go to File > Import Movies, browse for them, and import to your heart’s content. That’s it!

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