Synology Disk Station DS212+ Quick Look

DS21201

The last few months I’d suffered a significant amount of data loss during to failing disks and the last straw was a recent failure where I lost some personal files and home videos which I had failed to backup. Since I was already planning to invest in a NAS I quickly did a comparison of the available options for the Home and Small Office segment and made my decision.

DS21200

I picked up the Synology DS212+ from Cameo‘s brick and mortar shop in Salmiya. They also have an online shop but I was facing some issues placing the order online so I went there personally to get the items. I’m lucky I did coz the guy at the shop gave me a decent discount for the items, something which I wouldn’t have got if I’d ordered online. I filled the bays with WD RED 4TB drives which are Enterprise Edition drives and meant to run 24/7. I also configured the drives in RAID 1 so that I’d have redundancy and less headache if one of the drives fails.

 DS21202

Whats in the box
The box contains everything (except the tools) you need to install the drives and connect it to your home network. NAS Chassis, two drive trays, screws for 3.5 and 2.5 inch HDDs, Cat 5 cable, power adapter and installation CD.

Installation and Setup
Attaching the drives to the trays was done in a couple of minutes and the drives easily slide into the chassis and click into place. The drives are hot swappable and you only need to remove the front panel to quickly access the trays. I hooked it up to the network and installed the utility that detects the NAS on my network. Once I had access to it I downloaded the latest version of the DSM OS and formatted and configured the drives. If you’re using a media streaming device like an XBMC, WD Live or Apple TV it would be a good idea to give it a static IP. I had created network shares for certain folders so I needed a static IP anyway.

DS21203

The good thing I noted about the DSM was the non-intimidating GUI and the menus. I don’t have much experience with setting up storage boxes but with the DSM OS I was able to configure things very easily. The OS also supports many widgets that lets you use the box like Media server, FTP server, Mail server etc.

Home Media Server and Backup
I’ve had the DS 212+ for a couple of weeks now and primarily use the NAS to backup my personal files and media. Since I have a WD Live connected to the network I can easily stream music, videos and photos to the main TV in the living room. The specs on the DS 212+ are enough to handle streaming media to multiple devices but I did face some issues with 1080i BluRay videos. The NAS has a Gigabit network card but my router and switches are all 10/100 so I believe there lies the bottleneck. I might upgrade the network components at a later date.

DS21205

Final Thoughts
I previously was working with multiple drives and my old media server was just acting in JBOD mode but now with the NAS I don’t have the worry of scattered drives and data loss. If you’re in the market for a storage device I’d recommend you take a look at the models from Synology as they’ve got systems to suit all budgets.

Online reviews from Xbit Labs , Bit Tech and PC World

Synology DS212+ video review [link]

Wasabi Power Battery – Review

Wasabi power GX1

This was one of those posts that’s been in draft for a while now. I just checked my order date on Amazon and realized I bought this set back in May 2012. I’ve been using it regularly ever since so this is probably a good testament to how great these batteries are.

These are just third party batteries so there’s no in-depth review or technical analysis but I’ll just quickly focus on my experience with these batteries.

Initial hesitation:
I needed extra batteries for my brand new (in June 2012) Lumix GX1 but there were two issues that kept bugging me.
1. Expanding/exploding third party batteries – I read in a few articles about how power cells from knock-off battery makers or non-OEM manufacturers could either swell up inside the camera or just simply explode during use or charging.
2. Non- Functional battery power level indicator – The initial batteries that came out were not encoded with Panasonic’s proprietary ‘smart chip’ so some users reported that the camera will not display the remaining charge in the battery and so you might face an abrupt  shutdown while shooting.

Keeping both these points in mind I took the plunge anyway and was happy to find out that both issues were non-existent in Wasabi batteries. So far they haven’t exploded and both of them display the power level perfectly.

Wasabi power GX1 box

What I like: 
. First and foremost, the Wasabi packs in 1500mAh power as opposed to the 1010mAh in the OEM battery. This translates to more shooting time and there were times during my vacation when I didn’t have to charge them for more than a week.
. You get amazing value for money for the 30 odd dollars that you pay. The pack includes two batteries, one wall charger and a 12 volt DC charger that you can plug into your car.
. The charging unit is much smaller than the Panasonic one and it plugs directly into the wall so you don’t have the hassle of packing an additional 2-pin cable.
. The charging unit has a very simple ‘Red for charging’ and ‘Green for completed’ indicators that are more intuitive than the Panasonic’s Morse code indicator.
. The car charger is a handy thing to have but I’ve only used it once as most of the time I leave home with both units fully charged.

Where to buy it from:

I bought mine from Amazon for about 30 USD and then spend another 7 or 8 KD for shipping from NYC. This is the item as listed on Amazon [link]
They’re also available from Mr. Babu for 14.5 KWD which includs shipping so this is definitely a better deal. [link]

RTC Electronics – Geeks Paradise

RTC page

This weekend I need to get some work done on setting up my home entertainment systems and this involved extending some cables across the room. I asked some friends about places to get electronics supplies and one friend pointed me towards RTC in Hawally.

The shop is marked in Google maps so it wasn’t too difficult to locate it. The shop entrance isn’t too impressive when you walk in but the surprise is when you walk down the stairs to the lower level. This place is every electronic geeks wet dream as you’ll find almost anything you’re looking for.

I was mainly looking for speaker wires, connectors and cable ducts. I bought all this and more during my shopping trip there. While my bill was being prepared I took a walk around the shop and noted that they’ve got everything from DJ lighting equipment, circuit boards, hobby kits, cables etc to all the tools you’d ever want to do you own DIY projects. The only thing I didn’t get though was a flexible cable sleeve that could accomodate the thick bundle of wires that exit my entertainment cabinet. I ended up using the IKEA RABALDER that I had left from previous cleanups.

RTC is the place to go if you’re looking for electronics supplies and I’ll surely be making a few more trips there in the next few days.

RTC home page [link]

RTC Electronics Corp.
Othman St. – Al-Trayji bldg – Magazine No. 5 – 6
Hawalli
+965-22623287
+965-22623286
+965-22623287
info@rtc-electronics.biz

Setting up a Home Surveillance Camera – Dlink DCS 930L

My wife and I needed a way a monitor our babies while we’re at work and to keep an eye on our home when we’re out of the country so we looked for an easy and reasonably priced home surveillance solution. After some hunting on the internet I came across this model from Dlink that fit our requirements perfectly.

A few friends have asked us for more detail on how to set it up so I’ll try to make things as clear and simple as possible in this post.

What do you need?
1. A stable internet connection with decent upload speed.
2. A router that supports (or has configurable settings) Port Forwarding
3. A network camera

How do you set it up?
1. First of all, follow the instructions for your specific brand of camera to set it up on your home network
2. From the router assign the camera a static IP address (like 192.168.1.99)
3. Check from a PC on your home network to see if you can access the homepage of your camera
4. Go to Port Forwarding settings on your router and create a rule to forward incoming connections to your cameras port (use a port like 8088) and save the rule
5. Now find out the IP given to your router by the ISP. Hit www.whatismyip.com to find out
6. Now you can test if you can access your camera from an external network. Enter [http://(your home IP address):8088] and you’ll see the homepage of your camera
Note: You most probably won’t have a static IP assigned to you by the ISP so if you restart your router you’ll have to recheck your IP address.
7. If you can buy a Dynamic DNS service you can set a permanent URL for your camera and access it just by entering it in your browser. That way you won’t have to check your IP every time the router is restarted.

Dlink DCS 930L

Whats in the box: DCS 930L Camera and stand, Power adapter, Installation CD, Instruction booklet, Network cable

Setup: Installation was very simple and you have the option of either hooking it up to your router for the initial setup or using the WPS feature (you router must also have this feature) Once you’ve set it up using the installation software you can unplug it from the router and then install the camera on the wall or on a shelf in the room that you want to monitor. The camera will connect automatically to your home WiFi network once you’ve moved it to its new position and connected the power.

My Dlink App: The application that comes with the camera allows you to control multiple cameras around your house and also setup motion detection or ask the camera to send you an email alert when there’s a sound or movement inside the field of view of the camera. Using the application you can register your camera on the Dlink cloud and then log into your camera when you’re away from home.

Mobile App: The Dlink application is available for iOS and Android and it too allows you to access multiple cameras from your mobile and also take screenshots from the video feed.

Performance: This is not some High Definition video recorder but for keeping an eye on your home this is more than adequate. We have a 3 MBPS DSL connection but uploads are usually around 500 Kbps so there’s a slight lag in the video feed but its still usable. The microphone is rather sensitive and we can clearly hear our children talking from the corridor or even the inner rooms. Since the mic is sensitive it also has a rather annoying hiss when the room is very quiet.

Where can you buy it from?: When I was planning on buying this camera back in June there was a one day offer from Sheeel for 19 KD, which I missed but later on found it on Mr. Babu for the same price. I got my order from Mr. Babu in less than a week.

Meike Battery Grip for Nikon D60

Meike Grip D60

Over the past couple of months I’d accepted a few projects that involved shooting over long periods of time and that meant shooting continuously in scenes with few chances of a battery change. Nikon originally didn’t make a battery grip for the D60 but there’re a lot of third party companies who make a compatible battery grip for this type of body.

 I looked at a lot of online reviews and the top contenders were Opteka, Targus and Meike. Ultimately I went with the Meike as I found it more suited to my usage and it didn’t have as many parts as the other brands. I also found that the textured pattern on the Meike grip was closer to my camera body texture.

Why do you need a vertical grip/ battery grip?
1. Do you shoot for long hours and go thru more than one battery per session?
2. Do you have large chubby hands and find that all your fingers don’t have room to grip on the camera body?
3. Do you shoot in portrait mode for the majority of your session?

Continue reading “Meike Battery Grip for Nikon D60”

Apple Repair Shop – Hawally Kuwait


My daughter broke the screen on her iPod while on vacation and I was looking for  a reliable place to get it fixed. I’d remembered reading about a place in Hawally that exclusively repaired Apple products so I went there.

Apparently the whole operation is run by Chinese people, probably trained or worked at Foxconn. The Chinese lady at the reception pointed me to the service adviser, a Tamil gentleman, who informed me that it would cost 10 KD to replace the touchscreen but if there were any other components to be replace it would cost an extra 5 KD.

I left the ipod at the shop and they promised to call as soon as the work was done. I got a call a couple of hours later and the screen was as good as new and I paid only 10 KD which was not a bad deal for a touch screen replacement. A friend of mine later informed me that he had to pay them about 40 KD to get his iPhone screen replace whereas it would’ve only been 20 KD elsewhere. Maybe I was just lucky.

Also found out they have branches in Farwaniya and Mangaf so next time I won’t  have to drive all the way to Hawally.

Michael Chinese
Hawally – Bin Khaldoun street,
Al-Mulla Complex basement,
Opposite Shua’a Complex.
Hawally – 66228596
Farwaniya – 60454636
Mangaf – 66161575

Borderlinx Shipping Experience

I’d heard recently that Borderlinx had revised their shipping rates and although they’re still a little more expensive than Aramex I decided to try out their service.

The cost calculation for Borderlinx is based on the ‘Volumetric weight’, which you can read about [here]. In short, if you’re shipping a small box it won’t cost you much but if its a light weight item packed in a large carton then you’ll be paying for the volume occupied by the box and not the net weight.

Here’s some of the benefits I got from using Borderlinx;
1. No membership fee – Registering is free and you get an address in USA and UK.
2. Control your shipments – You can see the number of items in your inbox and then combine them so that you’ll save on shipping
3. No surprises – Each time I order thru Aramex I get an additional charge when I collect my package from the warehouse. Its usually something minor like a customs charge or clearing charge which was not mentioned in the original invoice. With Borderlinx I didn’t get any similar suprises and paid only the amount in the original invoice.

My Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.0 7″ weighed in .68KG and it cost me 8.5 KD for shipping and the Tab was approx 67 KD on Amazon so in total it cost me 76 KD which is great considering the prices here are almost double.

New Net-on-phone plans from Wataniya

Wataniya has come out with an all new set of data packages for pre-paid connections. The new rates are much better than my old plan and I’ve now subscribed to the 1.5 GB plan.

It’s perfect for my needs as I use it only to stay connected while I’m on the move. I had previously tried 200 MB for 5 KD, 500 MB for 7 KD and Unlimited Plan for 11 KD per month which was the last plan that I had before I moved to the new rates.

Wataniya Net-on-phone plans [link]

Flip MinoHD 8GB – Pocket Video camera

I was at Xcite last week with a colleague when I noticed that they had a sale on the 8GB Flip HD. I bought one for my dad since he was thinking about getting a small video camera for trips to India and this seemed perfect for his use. There are no menus and options to go thru, you just point and shoot.

I was playing around with it and its not a bad video camera. It shoots at 720p @60FPS and does not have optical zoom or optical image stabilization. The final output on a large screen TV is decent and its adequate for those homemade family videos. It also has an inbuilt software to transfer files to your PC and even do editing. Check out the test sample at the end of the post. I wanted to shoot outdoors but conditions were less than perfect this weekend.

Whats in the box?
It comes in a very small minimalist black box and contains the Flip unit, a lanyard, some documentation and a soft pouch which also works as a cleaning cloth.

Features:
. Built-in USB connector
. Flipshare software pre-installed on flash memory
. 8 GB internal memory, records @ 720p, 60FPS for 2 hours
. 2x digital zoom and digital image stabilization
. Built-in Lithium Ion battery

Update: Software
The software that comes with the Flip is easy to use and it has some basic video editing functions and the options to add opening credits, titles and end credits. There’s also a little Flip logo that you can attach to the end of each video. The Flipshare library also has some music tracks that you can use for your videos. If you have an Youtube account you can upload your videos directly from Flipshare. I tested it for my upload and it worked fine.

Overall this is great value for money and considering I paid less than 14 KD for each unit I have no complaints at all.

You can also buy the Flip from the Xcite website. [link]

Youtube [link]

Pioneer AVH-P4450BT – First Impression

After my previous post about the audio install I had a few days to go through all the features and get a good idea of the performance of this head unit. I had previously made up my mind to buy the 3350BT but when I visited Qirtas and Gajria Co. they had just received the new models for 2012 and I stretched my budget to upgrade to this one.

In terms of input options this one has all the ones you’d ever want in a car entertainment system. Its got; DVD, Rear VGA, USB, AUX and Bluetooth Audio.

What I liked most is that I just need to step into my car and it immediately connects to my mobile phone and I can listen to my Internet radio via the car’s speakers. The installer had routed the USB and Aux-in cables into my lockable glove box so I can keep my iPod and other devices safe while connected to the system. Controlling the iPhone and iPod was a breeze through the explorer menu and I had no trouble finding a song or artist. The unit allows you to scroll through the list with a slider and quickly access the files you want. Since I also installed the steering wheel controller interface I can change tracks from the built-in controls on my steering.

Setting up the Bluetooth was easy and now I can stream music or any audio from the phone to the unit from the on screen controls. I was not able to test the call functions however, since I didn’t receive the Bluetooth microphone in the package. An email to Pioneer UAE resolved the matter and they will be sending a replacement unit to the local dealer.

The unit supports DVD video and via USB you can play divx files. The reading time from the USB was quick and for smaller files like TV shows you can quickly switch tracks while movies and longer files took about 5 seconds to buffer before playing. I played a couple of DVDs and the video quality was acceptable for a QVGA screen but anyway video is not the reason I bought this in the first place.

After tweaking the audio settings and manually setting the 8 band graphic equalizer it was apparent that a head unit makes a significant difference in the audio output. The vocals now seem much more clearer and the bass levels are more powerful without the previous jarring I has felt for some tracks. For now I’m happy with the existing speaker setup since I mostly listen to standup comedy on the way to work I may upgrade the front door speakers and maybe add a sub-woofer in the future.

I played a gamble while deciding between the Scosche and Metra DIN panel and fortunately the Metra unit looks really great and matches the rest of the dashboard perfectly. All the installation was done at Zaharat Al Naseem and they’ve done a good clean job and the best part is that they know exactly what is required and how to go about it. The rear camera had to be installed in the split tail gate since I bought a larger model with night vision but it fits flush with the body and works great. (The dust is from my desert drive this morning)

Overall I’m very satisfied with the way things have turned out and I’d recommend this unit if you’re looking to upgrade your factory unit.

Zaharat Al Naseem
Sharq, Reneem Bldg,
Opp. Arraya Center,
2414379
9581594