Blog. And sometimes just whinging.

It’s the simple things…

// February 4th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Rambling, tech

I have a scratch volume consisting of several drives in a software RAID setup on my Mac Pro at work. One of the more annoying things is that when I set it about ingesting something, toddle off to do other work while it does so and then come back more or less when it’s done, inevitably the drives will have spun down and I’ll have to wait for them to spin back up. It’s not a long wait, but it’s annoying one. Especially as I can’t, say, eject the camera that’s connected while they’re spinning up.

Boring. GimmeGimmeGimme. NowNowNow.

I don’t want to disable drive sleep because the machine does sit idle sometimes. So what’s a girl to do? Google the pmset options and figure out how to fix this annoyance, that’s what. Turns out, it’s totally configurable (when you have “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep when possible” enabled):

sudo pmset -a disksleep 40

You can take a look at what your basic settings currently are with:
sudo pmset -g

Now my disks won’t spin down for 40 minutes. So if I wander off to lunch, they will spin down. If I’m just taking a bit too long to get back to an ingest/capture/encode, I don’t have to wait for each drive to spin up and the volume (and machine) to become ready. This works for any drives that are directly controlled by the machine (be it a Mac Pro or a laptop). It’s not relevant to any RAID which is hung off a controller card or enclosure with an in-built controller.

Just thought I’d share. Especially since I haven’t posted anything here in ages…

Talking up to your customers

// August 19th, 2010 // Comments Off on Talking up to your customers // Rambling, tech

Frankly, I think RED could have handled their current RED-DRIVE/RED-RAM supply (or lack thereof) problem a bit better than it has. Case in point, the latest which amounts to ‘stop whining’.
The latest response -or- Read from the start
(Sorry to single you out, Brent, but the sword is in your hands and you’ve fallen on it willingly.)

I made an off-the-cuff remark that they’d been taking customer service lessons from AT&T; a demeanor often described as “we’re not happy ’til you’re not happy”. But, that’s actually a bit harsh in that, frankly, I don’t think they’re even thinking about their ‘front-facing’ appearance at all. I don’t follow RED like I used to (mostly because the product I am/was interested in hasn’t shipped yet) but I still watch with interest when they make announcements. They are unique in their customer interfacing practices. And this time… I don’t think it’s gone very well. So, RED, here’s a favour from me to you:

My idea of a better reply to RED customers about the removal of large storage options from the RED store before any replacement option is available. Let me see if I can help you lads with some ’empathy for your customers 101′.


I’d like to try to answer some of your criticisms and concerns as best I can. While it’s clear that, by the very fact that you as customers have raised this issue, there’s a real concern over the recent removal of RED-DRIVE and RED-RAM from our store, we want to explain as best we can why this was necessary. As you know RED has traditionally been on the bleeding edge of camera technology and we do this with a small staff compared to other companies. As such, sometimes we have to make decisions that shift our focus and this sometimes means moving engineering and product work to focus on new, better technologies for the future.

As most of you no doubt know, we’re right on the cusp of releasing some new hardware that will change how many of our existing accessories relate to the overall line. And may change many things about shooting with our cameras, not the least of which are storage requirements. Part of our change of focus, along with the normal supply issues we face with accessories that require outside vendors (drives, flash, etc.) has caused us to, some feel prematurely, stop taking new orders for RED-DRIVE and RED-RAM (we are still fulfilling existing order and providing servicing). We want to assure you that relief is on the way in the form of larger 64GB CF cards as well as some new storage technologies we can’t discuss just yet. We hope you’ll understand the latter and trust us on that.

We’ve often asked you – our working customers who, we understand, have immediate needs in your day-to-day work – to wait, to be patient and trust us and that we would make it all worthwhile in the end. As with the RED-ONE, which was a long but ultimately fulfilling wait for many of you, we hope you’ll bear with us through this growth bump as we re-tool for an even more awesome future. Please watch the site and forums and we’ll keep you posted when new storage solutions are ready to shop.


The [unusual] Conversation

// June 17th, 2010 // Comments Off on The [unusual] Conversation // Skepticism

I was on The Conversation with Dan Benjamin and Jason Seifer this week. We talked about… UFOs. No, really. We did! I’m no expert on the subject, but I think it went well. I knew more than I thought I did. Having been a believer in aliens and ghosts when I was young and reading a lot of the literature seems to have helped.

Or… Am I just part of the shadowy conspiracy!

I guess you’ll just have to watch* or listen and decide for yourself:

On a related (sort of) note, I’ll be speaking at this year’s The Amazing Meeting 8 on a workshop/panel with a few fellow grassroots organizers/worker bees. NOT about UFOs, but about using technology to promote and organize skeptics groups at the grassroots. Wish me luck.

* – Sorry anyone who had imagined I was some lovely young thing. The webcam will bear out… I’m just a fat not-as-young-anymore butch chick with a lot of dye in my hair and metal in her skin.

The Setup aka

// May 16th, 2010 // 3 Comments » // Represent, tech

maggie mcfee
Good heavens. Through some sort of temporarl anomaly or hole in spacetime, I’ve wound up on The Setup (

Read it here, if you insist:

In unrelated news, I just posted a candid ‘behind the scenes’ video of James “The Amazing” Randi from a shoot at NECSS 2010 we just did:

The RAID post that was

// March 1st, 2010 // Comments Off on The RAID post that was // Rambling, tech

My RAID post had a glaring and awful error in it (thank you to the commenters who pointed it out) as well as an implication in the graph I didn’t intend and so I’ve removed it. I don’t feel that leaving inaccurate information up is helpful to anyone. Thanks again to the commenters who pointed out my mistakes. I hope to re-visit the post at some point and I’ll be sure to give credit where it’s due. – Maggie

And read it!: “180 Degree Shutter – Learn It, Live It, Love It”

// January 4th, 2010 // Comments Off on And read it!: “180 Degree Shutter – Learn It, Live It, Love It” // Raves, tech

I just want to point you to this great post by Tyler Ginter., Worth your time if you’re interested in cameras and film.
180 Degree Shutter – Learn It, Live It, Love It

Tyler, for those who don’t know him, is a “Combat Camera Platoon Leader in charge of a team of videographers and photographers who travel the world gathering historical footage for the U.S. Army”. And he’s a great guy who’s always sharing both his creations and his time. Kudos, Tyler.

That dapper lad…

// December 1st, 2009 // Comments Off on That dapper lad… // Uncategorized

Just wanted to post up a link to a fun video I put together from our last Boston Skeptics in the Pub shoot ( ) with George Hrab. Geo covered ‘Single Ladies’ and it was just too fun to pass up trying to sync him up with the to Pomplamoose version. Luckily, Geo is also a drummer so his sense of timing helped a lot. Timing done by hand (and the patience of my neighbours who surely hate this song by now), filtering via Magic Bullet Looks (I just keep plugging @5tu et al, don’t I…).

Anywho… enjoy!

Also, see the full show here, if you’d like at BostonSkeptics.

The HD/DV Rebel’s Guide* to Not Losing Your Sh… Stuff

// May 15th, 2009 // Comments Off on The HD/DV Rebel’s Guide* to Not Losing Your Sh… Stuff // Rambling, tech

* – With apologies to Stu Maschwitz

Oh, we’re all clever Dicks and Janes when we talk about backing up data as it comes off the camera. We like that stuff. It’s immediate. It’s grubby. It’s ‘field work’. Makes us feel like video farmers. “Gimme that G-Drive, mistah. Gon’ hook me up some Fahwahr and offload this hya video.” I suck at New England accents in person too. Sorry. But when that data gets home… we turn into suburban farmers instead. You know… the ones who plant that garden in spring and then… say “screw it” by the fall and it becomes an ugly shameful scar in the back yard that mommy doesn’t like to talk about so stop asking me.

Assumption #1 – Backup means that the files you love and can’t live without are stored in more than one place and that a failure of one storage medium is not a catastrophic failure. Sorry, but I have to be frank here… if you think that “everything on a new external hard drive” is equivalent to “safe”, you’re living dangerously.

I’ve handled a lot of drives in my sordid career, and I’ve had brand new drives fail mere seconds after they were powered up. True story: Guy on the Internet, who we’ll cleverly refer to as GuyX, pitched a fit in a support forum for a well-known drive manufacturer when the nearly new external drive he had stored ’10 years of his life on’ went belly up and he was adamant that he was not the one at fault. Drives fail. Grow up. Every drive is a whirling dervish full of failure waiting to happen. Copying your life’s work to a single drive is not a ‘backup’, it’s a screwup. Two copies equals one backup. One copy equals ticking time bomb. And in the immortal words of networking guru and chicken owner Selena Deckelmann, “What part of ‘ticking time bomb’ do you not understand?!?” (Blatant old friend plug. What up, S!)

So, you’re not that guy. Or girl. Who’s not that guy. You care. But… in case he drops in, I feel we need to cover this base first so we’re all on the same page, as the boys in Polos and khaki with their holstered Blackberrys like to say. (Yes, the plural of Blackberry the mobile device, not the actual berry, is Blackberrys.)

Assumption #2 – Your house or place of business may burn down in a fiery spectacle that will leave your neighbors talking about ‘the big one’ for months to come. Just imagine it! No, really. Do it. Imagine all the data you stand to lose. “Gaw-lee! That girl’s house burnt like the fires o’ Hell for near’bout two whole days!” You will be well and truly screwed if your prized data and your backup are both housed in that horrific-yet-now-enthralling display of nature’s wrath that burns so hot you end up with one side of your face a bright red.

OK. Stop thinking about it. That’s freaking scary, no? So store your backup — heck make it two now that you’re freaked out by the vision you just had — elsewhere if at all possible. If it’s not possible… then… Wait, what? Where do you live? The arctic shelf? Prison? The Moon? Even on the moon you could find an off-site crater to tuck a drive into. Talk to a friend and suggest, like (blatant plug #2 ahead!) Dan Benjamin did, that the two of you can create a new symbiotic relationship vis-a-vis your respective backups. Swap drives/tapes/whatever on a regular basis and protect each other’s most valuable possession: your video files and pictures of that girl who broke your heart after graduation and I’M NOT BITTER, SHARON, I’M NOT! Sorry…

No, don’t ask the pyromaniac in the apartment upstairs, but do ask your co-worker or your mom or your Call of Duty partner (HOORAH!). Or, simply, just take a drive to work and stick it in your desk drawer. When doing either, I highly recommend that you encrypt your drive/data, if it’s personal or sensitive, and definitely label it clearly as to who owns it and what it is. You don’t want your friend peeping your shameful video letter to the Stargate SG-1 fan club or a co-worker taking the drive from your desk because his Dell dropped a kidney on Sunday and he needed a ‘spare’ hard drive post haste to finish stalking someone on Craigslist. (Hang on, you over there going “What about ‘The Cloud’???” I’ll get to you.)

Where was I? Ah. Two copies and, hopefully, two locations. And, finally before we move on to the ‘how’ part, having a RAID storage device is not a backup. If you’ve got a nice new workstation with a built-in RAID or a deskside enclosure, good on you. It’s a wonderful life. But… BACK THAT THING UP! And store that backup off-site. Word.

OK. Now… how the heck are you gonna accomplish this? Well, what can you afford? Don’t beat yourself up thinking you must pay some service to vault your video or that it will cost an arm and a leg to to do this. You’re a rebel! Let’s start cheap and work up to ‘you got too much damned money, you’re no rebel!’

Bare Drives
Oh, yes. Oh, baby. Drives are cheap these days. Damned cheap. You can buy a 1TB drive for well under $100 if you shop around. And 1.5TB to 2TB drives aren’t that much more. If you add a drive dock like this or this to your rig… BAM! Instant backup system.

Copy your preciouseses to this drive and then haul it off-site for storage before the pyro upstairs drops that fateful match. Or, better yet, automate it. I use the awesome (some claim ‘super’) SuperDuper to do this. Find what works for you. And remember, you’re a rebel. Spend what you need to, not what some captain of industry says you need to.

Yep. Magnetic media. Look, it’s not dead. Ask any studio. And tape doesn’t ‘head crash’ and can be forensically recovered at less expense and with greater success than hard drives. And… well, OK, it costs more. So… you have that to think about. But, search around on eBay or Cragslist and maybe, in between the Star Wars collectibles and ‘misc romance’, you can find a used LTO drive or even a DAT drive for cheap. Sure, tape backups take a long time, but they work.

Just make sure to verify your backups (nothing ruins your world like a blank tape, pal) and clean your heads regularly. And by that I don’t mean “pop ’round the pub for a beer”. Well, yeah I do, but not in relation to cleaning your tape drive heads. Do that sober.

The Cloud
Don’t overlook the possibility of relying on the kindness of strangers. The Internet is full of both porn and companies trying to solve the online storage conundrum. Dropbox. Amazon S3. Mozy. Rackspace. Elephant Drive. MobileMe. Idrive/Ibackup. There’s a metric buttload of these things out there. And they all want to offer you the use of their storage (usually in exchange for some of your moneys if you want much storage). Just pick carefully and try not to lean too heavily on them. They are, after all, on Teh Internets. A wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Keep in mind that the upload speed for Teh Cloudz will be even slower than tape. So plan well and give it some time. But, if you go this route, you can check off ‘2 copies’ and ‘2 places’ with one stroke of your imaginary pen. Or pencil. If you’re one of those people. And if you’re even more of a rebel… build your own cloud! If you do your rebellious work somewhere that’s not home, set up a shared drive at home that you can access and backup your stuff. Or get one of these and slap a drive on it. Be creative. Be a rebel. Go on. Be one. Off with you.

Sure, what I’ve just covered amounts to, in hindsight, common sense. But every day I talk to people who, whether they admit it or not, I am certain have not archived their very important assets. Some will admit it, some will just shuffle their feet and look at the ground as they give a sideways answer. If Newton had been a technologist, he probably would have posited that “a backupless user tends to stay backupless unless acted upon by an outside shaming force”.

I am that force. Boo! Go back up your data now! Do it! No more excuses. Today is the first day of the rest of your good backup habits days. And the 16th as it just passed midnight here. So, it’s now tomorrow. You’re late already! Go, you rebel you! Go and be safe.

Having A Panicless Kernel Panic

// May 9th, 2009 // Comments Off on Having A Panicless Kernel Panic // Rambling

Kenn Bell, of the fabulous Dog Files (you don’t need a dog to be a fan), was having a problem with his MacBook Pro at startup. Turns out, it was kernel panic’ing. I couldn’t tweet everything I wanted to say in 140 chatracters, so I thought to myself “well, you’re a professional sysadmin by day, write out what you’d tell someone who dropped by the office with this problem.” So I did. Now, a kernel panic isn’t something you’ll see every day, but, if it happens to you, you’ll likely want to panic as well. It seems pretty dreadful when you get that ‘you must restart’ screen, but all may not be lost.

First, some background. The kernel is the heart and soul of your computer’s operating system. It’s quite resilient on its own, but we pile heaps and heaps (hehe… sorry… nerd joke…) of stuff on it in order to make our computers useful. But, if some near-catastrophic situation occurs where the kernel finds itself unable to continue/perform, it will ‘panic’. A panic is basically a software work stop. It’s saying to you “something is seriously wrong and I can’t (or won’t, for your protection) continue.” The problem could be hardware or it could be software. Let’s try to figure out which, shall we?

  1. Remove and then re-seat the RAM. The memory modules in your Mac are pretty easy to remove. Refer to Apple’s support pages or the booklet that came with the machine. If you have canned air, it wouldn’t hurt to blow out the socket too, but that’s low on the scale of ‘probable cause’. But RAM modules can work loose and just one less-than-adequate connection, especially if it’s intermittent, can cause no end of havoc for your computer. This is especially true of laptops.
  2. Do you have AppleCare? If so, boot from the CD that came in the box (hold down the “c” key at startup) and run the test utility included. If your kernel panics are constant and you don’t get one when booting from the CD (or a OSX disc), then your hard drive (or the OS install on it) have moved up the suspect list. Hopefully the utility will identify the culprit.
  3. If you can’t boot the machine without a panic, try booting in safe mode.
    If this works, then you’ll likely need to reinstall OSX at this point… You have a backup, right?
  4. If you can boot the machine (from hard drive or AppleCare CD or OSX CD/DVD), check your hard drive’s SMART status with Disk Utility. Click on the drive and look at the bottom of the Disk Utility window. If it says anything other than ‘Verified’, start cloning your data off this drive now, if you haven’t already. A little mild panic is allowed in this case. Got SuperDuper?
  5. If you can boot the machine (from hard drive – you don’t have SuperDuper on your CDs…) and have done all the above, clone your drive now. Hopefully you’ve already done this, but it bears pointing out. At the very least, have a backup of your data somewhere (via clone or Time Machine or whatever). Boot from the cloned drive (hold down the option key at starrtup and select your clone drive) — try it several times if the kernel panic is intermittent. If the kernel panic ceases, we can start suspecting your hard drive and not OSX. Otherwise, or if you don’t have a bootable clone, just a backup, let’s move on.
  6. If you can boot the machine from hard drive (your kernel panics are intermittent) and nothing above has worked, have you recently repaired permissions? Before we get into things that might make some people nervous (single user mode, etc.), let’s eliminate a simple permissions issue (or, maybe Disk Utility will error out and show that it’s the hard drive at fault). If you haven’t repaired permissions in a while, open up Disk Utility and do so now. With any luck, you won’t have a panic during this. But we have a clone/backup to fall back on, right?
  7. OK, I lied about single user mode. We’re not going there. If you’re familiar and comfortable with single user mode and fsck and and the like, you probably stopped reading this about 3 bullets ago. You may now panic. But only if you don’t have a backup. If you have a backup, it’s time to try the last-ditch-effort: reinstall OSX and restore your user data. Annoyed? Yes. Panicked? No.
  8. If reinstalling OSX does not help, it’s time to hit the Genius Bar or call AppleCare. There are other things you could attempt, but this is what you paid for. It’s time to let someone who gets paid to do it take your burden away. Deep breath… and repeat after me, “I’m so glad I got AppleCare.” You did get AppleCare, right? Oh, yes. Right. Let’s try that one too, “I’m so glad I’m still under warranty.”

There are other things you could try, but they’re outside of the scope of this post (i.e. – I’m too lazy at this point to type it all out). Good luck!

Something I feel very deeply about

// March 5th, 2009 // Comments Off on Something I feel very deeply about // Rambling

I wrote three similar notes to both MA senators and my state representative today. I wrote them regarding GAPA, the Great Ape Protection Act. Below is what I wrote to Rep. Capuano. The other two notes were very similar. You can write yours too, if you’d like, by going here: Find your reps and write or call them

Dear Rep. Capuano,

I’m writing you to ask you to please support the Great Ape Protection Act which has been re-introduced.

We have the ability to convince ourselves of many things. One of those little lies we tell ourselves is that great apes are ‘just dumb animals’. And we tell ourselves that, like other animals which we use for our food and our daily toil, we have should complete dominion over them. But the great apes are not dumb animals. The kinship we share with these intelligent creatures is evident to anyone who looks into their eyes, communicates with them or hears them laugh with one another. Knowing how we treat them in labs all across America, it’s all the more heart -breaking to watch these bright creatures tickling one another, causing fits of laughter, an act we assume is specific to us humans. And then to look into those same eyes, no longer laughing – but now frightened and alone- and see a soul pleading with you, you who it recognizes as being another self-aware being, to please… please just release it from the cage where it’s trapped and feels nothing but isolation and pain… That will truly break your heart in a most excruciating way.

Please Mr. Capuano. Support this act. It will force us to face up to our responsibility to these intelligent creatures and to stop treating them like something they’re not: dumb animals.

Thanks for hearing me out.
Maggie McFee
Cambridge, MA