BVLog Bryan Voss’ mental synchronization point


Losing connection to USB drive when attempting to sync iPod

I ran into a weird issue recently and thought I would document it here in case others (or myself in the future, hi me-to-be!) can benefit from it. My wife and I bought an iPod Shuffle for our daughter. We already have a couple of iPod Touches, a couple of Nanos, and an older Shuffle in the household, so adding another newer-gen Shuffle shouldn't be a problem, right? So you would think.

We have an older Windows computer in the living room that over time has seen its interactive usage drop as it increasingly became less useful due to age and requirements of newer software. It now primarily acts as an iTunes jukebox/syncing station, Picasa photo storage appliance, and a digital picture frame. It has a 1 TB USB drive attached, where all the content is stored. We regularly connect my wife's iPod Touch via USB to charge it. We also occasionally connect the other iPods in the household to sync new content.

I connected my daughter's new Shuffle and went through the registration process. After getting it all set up as I liked, I tried dragging a song to it to check syncing. A few seconds later, I received an error dialog stating that the song could not be synced because the media file could not be found. I tried another song and got the same error. iTunes stores it's media on the USB drive. Yikes! Is the drive failing? I shut down iTunes, reset the USB drive, and tried to access it via Windows Explorer. Unable to access anything. Uh-oh.

After rebooting the PC, the drive was again available and I could randomly access various directories & files. I restarted iTunes and tried syncing another song to the Shuffle. Same error. Hmm. I rebooted and connected my wife's iPod. It was able to sync without problems. The error only occurred when the Shuffle was connected and I tried to access anything on the USB drive.

It turns out that even though the USB drive has its own power supply, the Shuffle was drawing so much power from the USB bus that the drive could no longer function. We purchased a powered USB hub at OfficeMax and I tried again. I left the drive connected to a USB port on the PC and connected the Shuffle to the new USB hub. Works fine now.

My daughter is now happily jamming to our library of Christian music and is happy to have an iPod of her own like her big brother.

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Big Data

I just added another 15 terabytes of disk to one of the SANs at work that I manage. Woohoo! Always fun dealing with lots of storage. Now off to provision some new datastores for VMWare ESX.


1.) Is it turned on?

I was recently contacted by EMC Support saying they had not received a health report from our new secondary Centera cluster in a while. They had tried dialing into the cluster via modem, but were not getting a response. They asked me to reset the modem on the cluster to ensure that it was working correctly so they could dial in and check things out.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I brought up my Centera Viewer client and tried to login to the cluster. No response. No ping response either. As I walked down the hall to the datacenter, I was reviewing network connectivity for the cluster in my mind. If a system isn't working correctly, blame it on the network, right?

Once in the datacenter, I opened the back of the rack and found the modem dead. No lights at all. After checking cables, it occurred to me that I wasn't feeling any breeze from the fans in all the nodes. A quick glance told me that there were no lights on the back of the cluster. I walked around to the front and found no lights there either.

As possible causes for a complete power failure to the rack began whizzing through my head, one tidbit floated to the surface: About two weeks before, we had been coordinating with the Maintenance department on moving our datacenter power feeds to a new powerhouse the hospital recently built. We have big APC UPSes that will power the datacenter for a few minutes until generators kick in. Since Maintenance wasn't sure how long it would take to reroute power through the new powerhouse and generators were out of the question, we had to prepare for the worst and assume the UPSes would drain and shut down before power was restored. One of the steps we took was powering down all non-critical systems. Since the new Centera was a replication target and replication was not in full swing yet, I decided to power it down for the move.

Of course, I'm sure you've already determined the problem. We forgot to power it back up! Since the Centera was new, I had not yet added it to our Nagios monitoring system and was not paying much attention to it. I powered the cluster up and sheepishly called EMC Support to report my little flub.

Take-aways (don'tcha love biz-speak terms like that?):

  • Even experienced tech guys like me fall victim to noob shenanigans like forgetting to check power on a system before diving into troubleshooting.
  • Add systems to your monitoring solution early, even if they're not in production yet. You can always disable alerting for that particular system until it's in production, and it's a good shakedown to make sure your thresholds are reasonable. It will also tell you if you maybe shut down the system and forget to turn it back on! (Like anybody would ever do something like that...)

New Monitors

I recently mentioned to my supervisor at work that my old 21" CRT monitor was getting a bit blurry. He said to speak to the manager of the PC Techs about ordering a replacement LCD.

A couple of weeks later, I was the proud recipient of dual 22" widescreen LCDs. Since the PC Tech manager was ordering a similar setup for himself and a couple of the PC Techs, he just included mine in the order.

I spent several hours over the past couple of days struggling with dual-head video cards under Windows Vista. My first attempt was an ATI card that was physically too large for my small-form-factor Dell. I then tried an older Nvidia that fit in the case, but had driver issues. I finally fell back to the built-in Intel graphics chipset with a dinky add-on that Dell supplies to share the display between two monitors. It shares system memory and isn't very high performance, but it works for now. I may try to order a better video card in the future if performance is a problem.

Below is a photo. The monitor on the far left is connected to a separate PC displaying Groundwork (Nagios) which is monitoring all the servers. I also have it connected to a KVM so I can hook up other stuff as needed. The two monitors in the center are the new widescreens. I put one in a portrait setup so I can view full-page documents without having to scroll around. My laptop is on the right with its 17" widescreen.

New Monitors

Everything is tied together with Synergy, which allows you to use a single keyboard and mouse to control multiple PCs and displays. Works very well.

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